Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in the 2017 Moscow Nonproliferation Conference, an international gathering held every three years of experts on nonproliferation, nuclear energy, and arms control. Organized by the Center for Energy and Security Studies (CENESS), the conference attracted an impressive, if not eclectic, group of participants from Europe, the United States, Russia, South Asia, China, Iran, and even North Korea (you knew when the North Koreans walked into the room since they were followed everywhere by a dozen journalists and photographers).
Unfortunately, there was no shortage of significant challenges to the global nuclear order to discuss at this year’s conference. The Iran nuclear deal (formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) has been placed under considerable strain thanks to President Trump’s announcement that he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement; tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to mount, raising the prospects of a major international crisis; and U.S.-Russia relations remain in a deep and dangerous ditch.
On the JCPOA, every foreign policy and nonproliferation speaker at the conference– including former U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, and chief of the European Union’s diplomatic corps Helga Schmid – affirmed that Iran is in full compliance with the agreement and that the JCPOA must be preserved. Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi warned ominously that President Trump’s recent statements have created a very negative atmosphere, bolstering hardline voices back home – “the situation in Tehran is now just as bad as it is in Washington.” He went on to say that if the United States pulls out of the deal, he believed the JCPOA would “collapse and be dismantled” even if European countries continued to support it. All expressed hope that the U.S. Congress will refrain from taking any action to reimpose or “snapback” sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program thereby effectively withdrawing the US from a deal described by many at the conference as the most significant nonproliferation achievement in 30 years.