May 9, 2018
What’s next now that President Trump walked away from what he called a horrible, one-sided nuclear deal with Iran? The Trump administration has not yet presented a coherent new direction for US policy. Unfortunately, we have seen a similar situation play out before, with disastrous results. When President George W. Bush walked away from what he considered a deeply flawed Clinton administration nuclear deal with North Korea in late 2002, his administration was not prepared for the consequences. North Korea withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, built nuclear bombs, tested bombs, and amassed a nuclear arsenal over the next 16 years that now threatens world peace.
Will re-imposed US sanctions push Iran to follow in North Korea’s footsteps and rush to build the bomb? I think not. However, even if these actions do not precipitate another nuclear crisis in the short term, they will likely strengthen the hold Iran’s hardliners have on their country, intensify Iran’s disruptive actions in the region, strain relations with our allies, and yield greater influence in the region to Russia and China. There are no indications so far as to how the administration will deal with such consequences.
Iran’s decision to agree to and abide by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) indicated its willingness to scale back the nuclear program and put the weapon option on the back burner in return for sanctions relief and regaining a place in the international community. It is not clear, however, if Washington’s re-imposition of sanctions and its push to isolate Iran will change that calculus in Tehran.
Iran, like North Korea, had for decades covertly developed a nuclear weapon option under the guise of pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, but the JCPOA has significantly lengthened the time necessary to break or sneak out to build the bomb. And it has done so with strict verification measures. We can only hope that Iran and the other parties to the deal will continue to abide by it. Regardless, withdrawing from the deal has already alienated US allies and greatly diminished Washington’s ability to limit Iran’s nuclear direction.
Siegfried S. Hecker
Center for International Security and Cooperation