Earlier in January, US President Donald Trump announced that he would renew the sanctions waivers granted to Iran under that agreement, but also that he would not do so when those waivers next came due 120 days later, unless the US Congress and European governments managed to create a suitable solution to perceived weaknesses in the JCPOA. Of particular concern to Trump are the sunset provisions that allow Iran to begin ramping up its nuclear activities once again after a decade, as well the JCPOA’s failure to impose restrictions on the Iranian ballistic missile program.
Advanced ballistic missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and the progress of that weapons program is considered by critics of the JCPOA to be a significant step in the direction of Iran’s potential nuclear “breakout” at some point in the future. The Iranians have repeatedly refused to negotiate over any military capabilities, and the ballistic missile issue was accordingly left out of the text of the JCPOA. Instead, the United Nations Security Council included language about ballistic missiles in its resolution governing the JCPOA’s implementation. But that language was so weak as to allow Iran to argue that it is not obligated to comply, and thus cannot be violating the resolution with its continued development and testing of ballistic missiles.
European leaders have recently acknowledged their understanding of the concerns that had previously been raised by Trump, Netanyahu, and other harsh critics of the JCPOA. While those leaders continue to stand by the agreement as it currently exists, they have also expressed interest in taking measures to separately restrict Iran’s missile activities and counter its military adventurism in the broader Middle East.
Merkel reportedly reiterated this position in her meeting with Netanyahu. According to the AP, she told him that the German government “doesn’t necessarily agree with the way we want to deal with it,” but does understand the need for addressing perceived flaws in the nuclear agreement. These remarks were included in a report from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, which underscored Netanyahu’s position that Europe is facing its last opportunity to impose “real and not cosmetic changes” on the JCPOA, so as to halt the progress toward a nuclear weapon that he believes would otherwise be inevitable.
Netanyahu was also scheduled to meet separately with French President Emmanuel Macron, to whom he presumably intended to offer much the same commentary as already shared with Merkel. Netanyahu and Trump are also expected to meet on Thursday, and they can be expected to discuss further strategies for generating consensus among European powers regarding the future of the nuclear agreement and the future of Western policy toward Iran more generally.
But international gatherings on Wednesday also exposed signs of the pushback that the American and Israeli leaders will likely receive in the midst of those efforts. For instance, Macron used his speech at Davos to gently rebuke the Trump administration for unilateral efforts that arguably threaten the “fragmentation” of Western alliances and their responses to global threats. Meanwhile, The Iran Project reported that an event at the European Parliament provided the legislative body’s permanent representative from Russia to accuse Trump of “blackmailing” European participants in the JCPOA, rather than attempting to build consensus in good faith.
Russia and China have both grown increasingly close to the Islamic Republic in recent years, and both are signatories to the Iran nuclear deal, along with the US, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Prospects for “fixing” the JCPOA have appeared dim to most observers since Trump first floated the idea, because even close allies of the US resisted the idea of changing the terms of the deal after the fact, to say nothing of Iran’s close allies and the Islamic Republic itself.