Tensions around Iran nuclear deal heighten at UN General Assembly


The efforts to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal are dominating discussion at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly Session, which opened on Sept. 18 in New York City and will last for 3 weeks, until Oct. 5. The annual session gathers its 193 leaders of member states to debate on pressing global issues of the year, ranging from national security disputes to environmental concerns.

The Iran nuclear deal — What is it about?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in 2003 that Iran had not complied with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which it signed in 1968 and ratified in 1970. The NPT has put a 5 percent cap on uranium enrichment, which is sufficient for civilian nuclear energy plants. IAEA investigations showed that some Iranian nuclear projects had reached weapon-level uranium enrichment of over 95 percent.

The subsequent international sanctions on the country, enforced mostly by global power states like the U.S. and European Union countries, barred its sale of oil and has cost it $100 billion in lost oil revenues and foreign direct investment.

In exchange for a sanction lift, Iran cut a deal in 2015 with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union. Officially named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, the international quid pro quo aimed to ensure that Iran limited its nuclear energy development within levels of civilian use.

President Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal from the deal on May 8, 2018, accusing the deal of failing to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weaponry. The president then ordered to reinstate all the economic penalties, predominantly on oil sale. All other signatories remained in the deal. Sarah Ratzlaff ’20, an international relations major, disapproves of president Trump’s decision to abandon the pact. “I think pulling out of the Iran Deal was a terrible mistake on President Trump’s part,” she said. “Although the deal wasn’t perfect, it was a step in the right direction to finding a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the threat of ballistic missiles.”

What happened at the session?

On Tuesday, Sept. 25, the first day of general debates, President Trump and Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran fiercely confronted each other in their first speeches.

According to a Haaretz News report, Trump charged the Rouhani administration with causing “chaos, death and destruction,” seeking world leaders’ support of his campaign in the U.S. to reimpose economic sanctions, expected to be escalated on Nov. 4.

Rouhani accused Trump of “economic terrorism” and an “authoritarian” approach to international relations, according to a report by The Guardian. “Confronting multilateralism is not a sign of strength, rather it is a symptom of a weakness of intellect,” Rouhani said.

Other signatories:

The May 8 U.S. pull-out caused the Iranian currency to weaken, resulting in augmented inflation and unemployment as oil exports continue to fall. Yet the spillover effects, most noticeably the skyrocketing price of oil, pressure all other participants in the deal.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that “the EU Member States would seek additional support to develop foreign policy tools that would guarantee Iran’s continued participation as well as the validity of the deal.” The U.N.’s actions are strongly endorsed by Germany and France.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated Friday that “Moscow will do everything possible to preserve the 2015 accord on curbing Iran’s nuclear program despite the U.S. withdrawal,” as reported by The Daily Progress.

On Sept. 25, France, Germany and Britain agreed with Russia and China to route their oil trading with Iran, circumventing the U.S. ban. Yet many question the extent to which such efforts would see results. As reported by Politico and Time, the dollar-centered global market gives the U.S. the ability to “coerce others to do what Washington wants.”

Rouhani commented “we are pleased that the international community did not acquiesce to the U.S.’s illegal and unilateral withdrawal from that agreement.”

Israeli Accusations:

Israel stood in alignment with the U.S. by bringing evidence to the Assembly showing the nuclear practices in Tehran went beyond the agreed boundaries.

On Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke during the UN General Assembly, stating that Israel “has uncovered an Iranian atomic warehouse.” The speech came with visual supports of maps and photos of a “secret nuclear weapons storage site in Tehran disguised as a rug-cleaning business.”

The charge was soon renounced by Gholamali Khoshroo, the Iranian Ambassador to the UN. According to a Haaretz report, the ambassador accused Netanyahu of having “ethno-religious fantasies comparable to those of ISIS” and described Israel as “the enemy of democracy in the Middle East.”