Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, to take due measures and draw up plans to build nuclear-powered ships in response to a vote by the US Congress to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA).
The order can be studied from political and technical aspects.
In view of the political and diplomatic aspect, the Iranian foreign minister should hold talks with the P5+1 group of countries and notify them that Washington has breached the 'content' of last year's nuclear accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Thus, Iran can lodge a complaint against the US on the basis of mechanisms stipulated in the agreement.
If Iran discovers that any or all of the P5+1 group (the US, Britain, Russia, France and China plus Germany) did not meet their commitments under the nuclear deal, it could refer the issue to the Joint Commission of the JCPOA. The Joint Commission would have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless the time period was extended by consensus.
After that, if it remained unresolved, the issue could be referred to the ministers of foreign affairs of the respective countries. Similarly, the ministers would have 15 days to arrive at a decision.
If the ministers failed to settle the dispute, the case could be referred to the UN Security Council, which would have 30 days to announce its decision.
This is a complicated and lengthy process. Since Iran has complied with its commitments under the nuclear deal and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified Tehran's compliance, the European Union, Russia and China are expected to take the Islamic Republic's side and convince Washington to stop its non-commitment to the JCPOA.
In the face of the technical aspect of Rouhani’s order, Iran should take parallel measures while it is following up political and diplomatic actions.
Iran can lodge a complaint to international bodies such as the The Hague or the EU’s legal office.
Rouhani instructed the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to draw appropriate plans to design and manufacture nuclear propulsion devices as well as the fuel required for them.
The presidential order does not demand that the AEOI implement the project. This is because the US has only violated the 'content' of the JCPOA. In other words, the ISA legislation has breached the nuclear deal 'on paper' but it has not practically violated it.
The renewal of the ISA does not violate the Iran nuclear deal because the extension does not reinstate sanctions that the US administration has committed to waive. This commitment to waive sanctions was put into place under the JCPOA. The nuclear pact will be violated if and when the US government refuses to waive the sanctions that are stipulated in the ISA. If these sanctions are re-implemented, it would be an outright violation of the JCPOA.
Hence, the Iranian president called for designing and developing nuclear-powered ships rather than launching them, which is a response to violating the nuclear deal 'on paper'. This conveys the message that if Washington refuses to meet its commitments, Iran can take vis-à-vis measures without violating the JCPOA.
The move also indicates that Tehran is able to respond to Washington’s obstructionism.
Since the US has not practically violated the nuclear deal, Iran does not need to breach it either.
Hassan Beheshtipour is an international relations analyst.