Salman Rushdie and The Nuclear Deal: A Timely Assassination Attempt, or Unfortunate Coincidence?

On August 12th Indian-British author Salman Rushdie was stabbed as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Rushdie has been a controversial writer since the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’ which critises islam. He received many death threats at the time including from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa, a religious edict, calling for the execution of Rushdie and others involved in the book’s publication (forbes). 

The question might be: why now? The suspect, Hadi Matar, was arrested at the scene. The motives for the attack are said to be Matar’s expressed support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian government. This led to accusations of involvement from Iran, allegations that have been officially denied. There were also allegations of Iran’s involvement in the attempted assassination of the US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, in 2020. Much of this US-Iran tension has roots in the Iran Nuclear Deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). 

The History of the Deal:

The P5+1 (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the European Union) reached an agreement and signed the deal in 2015. 

Former President, Donald Trump, withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 putting stricter sanctions on Iran in a ‘maximum pressure’ move. This decision meant that Iran was deprived of the economic benefits the deal was intending to create. A year later Iran ignored the nuclear restrictions and monitoring and verification it agreed to as outlined in the JCPoA and began enriching Uranium again.

In March (this year), Russia nearly sabotaged negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action demanding that the revived accord must guarantee Moscow’s right to trade with Iran. A request that blows through the sanctions put on Russia due to its war with Ukraine and which could lead to the relaxation of some sanctions on Iran’s economy. The war has complicated international efforts especially as Russia’s designated JCPoA role is taking delivery of Iran’s uranium stockpiles.

After 15 months of ‘intense’ negotiations, The European Union issued a proposal aimed at reviving the Nuclear agreement at the end of July this year saying that ‘now is the time to save the Iran nuclear deal’. However, Iran has requested adjustments to the agreement including a US guarantee, but Biden cannot guarantee that the US will not back out of the deal again in the future given Republican sympathies with Trump’s legislation. 

Why the sudden urgency from the EU? 

With Nuclear Power one of the climate-friendly alternatives to Oil, it’s weaponisation one of the threats in Putin’s arsenal, and Britain’s nuclear budget only increasing (Sizewell C’s hefty Nuclear funding has just been approved by Boris Johnson) nuclear power appears to be at the forefront of world leaders’ minds. 

Josep Borrel from The European Union has said that he has ‘put on the table the best possible deal under the circumstances’ and that ‘a restored agreement will strengthen regional and global security and show that balanced international accords are possible in turbulent times’ (EEAS). The threat of nuclear weapons has been Iran’s symbol of resistance and a bargaining chip in an attempt to have international sanctions lifted. Not something Iran is going to give up lightly. Richard Moore, chief of MI6, says ‘I don’t think the Supreme Leader of Iran wants to cut a deal’. In a time of turbulence and geopolitical uncertainty, the West wants to show its powers of peace whilst Iran, with an already struggling economy, wants what’s in its best interests. 

The E3 and the US issued a joint press release on 9th June 2022 to highlight Iran’s ‘non cooperation with IAEA (The International Atomic Energy Agency)’ but further signs of agreement with the European Union’s revised deal are yet to come. 

Borrell recognises that the deal ‘may not have addressed all US concerns with respect to Iran’ including human rights and Iran’s, broadly named, ‘regional activities’. These are concerns that the EU share but feel cannot be resolved in any agreement. 

Some of these activities may be its relations with Russia. Iran and other Middle Eastern Countries have been allies to Russia in the past although they are competitors in the Oil trade.  But on the flip side, a revived deal and better relations with Iran could fill a russia-shaped hole in Oil supplies. 

The US is not alone in being wary of Iran. Denmark has had threats of espionage from Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia, imprisoning ASMLA spies this March, and Britain has had nationals detained in Iran to name a few examples. Many countries are wary of Iran’s intentions and threats to their national security.

Liz Truss, the current Foreign Secretary and one of the candidates for PM, has not made any statement on Iran since September 2021 (Gov.UK). Although Britain has issued economic sanctions on Iran for both breaking the terms of the agreement and accusations of Iran’s involvement in the deaths of civilians and other attacks against the west. 

In a time of turbulence in foreign affairs, the revival of a Nuclear Deal for Europe is being seen as an act of peace in an otherwise brutal political landscape. For the US, peace feels unpromised in the deal and its demands too much of a compromise, but Biden is keen to make steps towards peace in the middle east after the withdrawal of his predecessor. Rushdi’s attempted assassination may impact these developments and the views on Iran worldwide. But one thing is clear, the threat of nuclear weapons in today’s divisional geopolitical landscape is more pressing than ever before. Every country wants the big stick for fear the other may have a larger one to beat them with. 

For More:

One Way Forward On Iran: A Nuclear Weapons Free Persian Gulf (The New York Times)

Iran Claims Salman Rushdie And Supporters Are To Blame For His Attack—As It Denies Involvement In Stabbing (Forbes)

Sizewell C Nuclear Plant Funding Approved Despite Tory Split (The Guardian)

The Way Forward on Containing Irans Nuclear Ambitions (The Washington Post)

Russia and Irans Growing Friendship shows their Weakness not their Strength (The Conversation)

Salman Rushdie Attack: The Legacy of the Decades Old Fatwa Explained (The Conversation)

Statement by Ambassador Barbara Woodward at the Security Council meeting (GOV.UK)

Why the Satanic Verses is still controversial (The Week)

Photo by Kilian Karger on Unsplash


Published by Accalia Smith

I am a student in the UK studying English Literature at RHUL and an aspiring writer.

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