May 9, 2018
We mustn’t be under any illusion: Trump’s announcement to walk away from the Iran deal achieves absolutely nothing. Rather, it makes everything worse. He discredits the nuclear deal, putting it on the path to destruction and potentially re-opening the doors to an Iranian nuclear program; he puts American credibility on the line; and none of this addresses any international concerns over Iran’s behaviour. This is crisis-creation at its finest.
Trump and other conservatives were concerned about what the deal “gave” Iran: the “sunset” clauses and Iran’s regional activities and missiles. But his decision to pull out of the deal does not address any of these concerns.
Firstly, the deal is a nuclear deal. As such, it addresses Iran’s nuclear program, nothing else. Trump’s statements that Iran was not holding up its end of the bargain and had a path to the bomb were simply false. To date, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed (the last count stood at 10 times) that Iran respected its commitments under the deal, as did the European Union. The United States itself confirmed Iranian compliance multiple times. Meanwhile, under Trump, the United States consistently undermined the implementation of the nuclear deal, preventing Iran from getting the carrots that ensured its continued commitment to the deal.
The deal does not cover Iran’s missiles or its role in conflicts throughout the region. Iranian officials indicated a willingness to discuss some of these issues in the months after the JCPOA was agreed, but today such talks are, to say the least, unlikely. Why engage in further discussions when the original deal was not respected? What guarantee do the Iranians have that this time, the United States will be a reliable negotiating partner?
What will Iran do? Its response will be based on a simple cost-benefit analysis. Iran is tired of the nuclear issue; it will not do anything drastic, like pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Rather, it will look for ways to stay in the deal, provided the remaining signatories to the JCPOA ensures Trump’s decision can be offset in some way or another. In other words, the EU in particular, along with China and Russia, will have to compensate Iran for the adverse effects of Trump’s decision to ensure that it remains committed to the deal. This means putting in place the Blocking Regulations to isolate its companies from US sanctions or guaranteeing the purchase of Iranian oil and gas. The EU indicated it remains committed to the deal as long as Iran is, but it’s unclear what this means in practice, and whether they have the political will to do something as drastic as implementing their Blocking Regulations.
Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal will not assuage US concerns about Iran’s regional role or its missiles. The decision only serves to create a new crisis on an issue that was shelved more than two years ago. In addition, it impacts US credibility with its allies and its ability to strike future such deals. It is a clear loss for US foreign policy. The question now is, can Europe, Russia, and China do enough to keep Iran on board as the pressure mounts in Tehran to respond forcefully to such a flagrant violation of the Iran deal?
fellow, the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King's College London
adjunct fellow, Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)