Iran nuclear deal: Powers await Rouhani announcement

Iran nuclear deal: Powers await Rouhani announcement
The US has been ratcheting up the pressure on Iran over the past year

Iran is due to announce plans to “diminish its commitments” to the 2015 nuclear deal on Wednesday, state media report, one year after US President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement.

It is unclear what steps Iran will take, but it says it does not intend to completely withdraw from the pact.

The landmark deal is aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief.

Tensions between Iran and the US have risen since Washington quit.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is to send a letter informing the remaining parties to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, China and Russia – of Iran’s decision, its state news agency Irna said.

Mr Rouhani is also due to deliver a speech, outlining the details.

Why is the nuclear deal in crisis?

The landmark nuclear deal agreed by Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, UK, France, China and Russia – plus Germany (the P5+1) – was thrown into flux when President Trump announced the US withdrawal one year ago.

Iran’s economy was subsequently hit by reinstated US sanctions on its oil and financial sectors, which has pushed the value of its currency to record lows, quadrupled its annual inflation rate and driven away foreign investment.

Despite this, Iran has upheld its commitments to the deal, according to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the body charged with monitoring Iran’s nuclear activity.

Iranian women wait in a bus station on the eve of first anniversary of US withdrawal from nuclear deal, in a street of Tehran, Iran, 7 May 2019.
Iranians have been hit hard by reinstated US sanctions, with living costs rising dramatically

European backers of the deal, who oppose reinstating sanctions, have been trying to find ways to salvage it. This includes the establishment of a special payments system to help international companies who want to continue trading with Iran to bypass sanctions.

But they have also warned Iran that it must continue to comply with all aspects of the deal, especially the elements relating to nuclear activity.

However, under the deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – Iran stated that it would treat any reintroduction of sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments… in whole or in part”.

Why is there such hostility between the US and Iran?

Tensions between the US and Iran can be traced back to Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, which overthrew the pro-Western Shah and established a radical anti-US regime in its place.

President Trump has taken a particularly hard line towards Iran since he took office in 2016.

His administration wants to renegotiate the nuclear deal and widen its scope so that it also curbs Iran’s ballistic missile programme and “malign” activities in the Middle East.

Donald Trump speaks at a the Stop The Iran Nuclear Deal protest in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on 9 September 2015.
Donald Trump had campaigned against the Iran nuclear deal long before he even took office

The US has recently raised the pressure on Iran, with two significant moves in April:

It ended exemptions from sanctions for five of Iran’s main customers still buying oil including China, India and Turkey.

It blacklisted Iran’s elite Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, designating it a foreign terrorist group.

And earlier this week, National Security Adviser John Bolton said the US was deploying an aircraft carrier to the Middle East following, a number of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

In response to the US ending the sanctions waivers, Iran repeated threats to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a critical passageway for the world’s oil exports. However, it has not done so before and experts see this move as unlikely.