In an exceptional instance of diplomatic harmony, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US released a joint statement Monday advocating for nuclear non-proliferation, and citing the historic refrain, “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
The statement, which urged the imperative of compliance with international nuclear security accords, was issued as the states prepared to resume talks with Tehran aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “We reaffirm the importance of addressing nuclear threats and emphasize the importance of preserving and complying with our bilateral and multilateral non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements and commitments. … We intend to continue seeking bilateral and multilateral diplomatic approaches to avoid military confrontations, strengthen stability and predictability, increase mutual understanding and confidence, and prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all,” the joint statement read.
Commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, the JCPOA stipulated Tehran would curb a host of nuclear activities and open up to international inspections of its program in exchange for the repeal of damaging economic sanctions. The deal was struck in 2015 between Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US.
The agreement fell apart in 2018. Though Iran had reportedly been in compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA at the time, then-US President Donald Trump opted to unilaterally abandon its terms, and called for a reinstatement of sanctions against Iran.
The administration of President Joe Biden has signaled a readiness to reenter the JCPOA, so long as Iran is willing to scale its nuclear program back into compliance with the agreement. “Following the previous administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA without much thought or plan as to what would come next [we have] seen this dramatic acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program since then,” a senior administration official said last month.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the fracture were further complicated by the election last June of hardline conservative Ebrahim Raisi to Iran’s presidency. In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in September, Raisi lambasted Washington for its failure to adhere to the JCPOA despite Iran’s compliance, and vowed not to cave to what he sees as US hegemony.
Tensions have been on the rise in recent weeks as the parties have strained to find a route back to the JCPOA, with Western powers concerned about Tehran’s nuclear development since the 2018 fracture, and Tehran in turn concerned about the reliability of a new agreement given Washington’s 2018 withdrawal.
Asked about the negotiations at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in December, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said candidly: “it’s not going well, in the sense that we do not yet have a pathway back into the JCPOA.”
Meanwhile, Tehran has continued to signal a wariness with what it perceives as unidirectional diplomatic pressure. Iran’s chief negotiator at the talks, Ali Bagheri, tweeted in December: “Some actors persist in their blame game habit, instead of real diplomacy. We proposed our ideas early, [and] worked constructively [and] flexibly to narrow gaps; diplomacy is a [two-way] street. If there’s real will to remedy the culprit’s wrongdoing, [a] way for quick good deal will be paved.”