New UK Report Offers Iran Deal Path

The Iran nuclear deal or JCPOA was atop the agenda during the first call between new U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and his UK counterpart Dominic Raab last week. But while the Biden Administration’s approach remains hazy, Britain could soon embrace a coherent strategy based on a recently published parliamentary committee report.

Authored by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, “No Prosperity Without Justice: the UK’s Relationship With Iran” spells out that “the rump JCPOA is imperfect” and provides three key remedies for any new or revised deal.

First, the report urges “regional consensus” involving “the voices of allies in the region.” None of the countries most directly harmed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions – i.e. its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Israel – are part of the current JCPOA. Not only was their exclusion a betrayal of key U.S. partners, it raised regional mistrust as well as the prospect of long-term Middle East nuclear proliferation.

With its historic and commercial ties, Britain is “uniquely placed” to get GCC buy-in. And with French President Macron also agreeing last week that Saudi Arabia must have a seat at the table, regional consultation must be a new deal red-line.

Second, the report counsels, “In a treaty fundamentally designed to deliver non-proliferation assurances, it is entirely reasonable that the JCPOA should place a binding restriction on Iran from developing such missiles [capable of delivering a nuclear warhead].” 

In characteristically British understatement, this is a point that should likewise have been plain and enforced back in 2015.

Indeed the world will now face the consequences of that insistence on decoupling the missiles threat from the nuclear threat, with the recent JCPOA-mandated lifting of the UN arms transfer ban on Iran. A new deal absent proper restrictions on Iran’s missile program, already the largest in the Middle East and capable of reaching eastern Europe, North Africa and India, will be as deficient as the old.

The missile component is critical not only with respect to conventional armed force. Iran also supplies thousands of rockets directly to its terrorist proxies: Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis in Yemen, and the plethora of Shiite militias in Iraq.

The third recommendation is therefore a much tougher stance on Iranian sponsorship of terrorism (euphemistically described as “destabilizing activities”). Questioned by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Foreign Secretary Raab confirmed:

“Ultimately, we need a longer-term framework that provides greater certainty over Iran’s nuclear program and […] we must also bring Iran’s wider destabilizing activities into scope”. 

The report authors agreed, noting the goal should indeed be to “replace the JCPOA with a broader agreement which additionally addresses regional security,” a third critical omission in the original JCPOA.

From a British perspective, the report proposes designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s main terrorism vehicle, as a terrorist organization in its entirety. More broadly, a new deal cannot just ignore the fact that Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.

Whether the White House will embrace these three new deal priorities - regional buy-in, serious missiles restrictions, and ending terrorism sponsorship - is unclear:

The new Administration has already signaled that it will not inevitably accommodate regional Gulf priorities with its “review” of the F-35 jets sale to the UAE.

Nor (unusually) did it criticize Iran’s recent launch of a major new missile test yesterday.

And several Biden supporters and potential Administration officials were critical of the U.S. decision in 2019 to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization in its entirety.

However, when confronted with the stark reality of what a truly better deal must include, the President and Secretary of State would be wise to consider the judicious recommendations from its transatlantic partner in the “special relationship.”

“No Prosperity Without Justice” can serve as a blueprint for not only the UK, but also the U.S. and all other signatories to a potential new deal.