On July 2015, many Iranians were out on the streets of Tehran celebrating the triumph of diplomacy when the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was signed by Iran, the United States, and the P5+1 countries which included Great Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany. This landmark achievement was the first internationally recognized deal that was reached between the United States and Iran since the severing of diplomatic relations in 1979. The nuclear deal also ended a decade of punitive sanctions on the Iranian economy. Two years later, with a new sheriff in Washington, Donald Trump wants the United States to withdraw from the agreement, which was a promise he made on the campaign trail towards his presidency. At the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump made these comments to the rest of the world “The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it.”[i] However, none of the signatories to the JCPOA share this view. Even some of Trump’s cabinet members like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis don’t share Trump’s harsh approach to the Iran deal. European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini stated that the Iran deal is working, “There is no need to renegotiate parts of the agreement because the agreement is concerning a nuclear program and as such is delivering.”[ii]
From the American perspective, the Trump Administration feels confined by the JCPOA, and many of their political allies were critical of relieving the sanctions too quickly because it would allow Iran to fasten its research and development of nuclear weapons. In addition, the White House has been a strong advocate against Iran’s role in the Middle East from supporting Bashar Al Assad in Syria to supporting Shia militias in Iraq, and supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The White House also wants limits to Iranian ballistic missiles that are covered in the deal. Decertifying the deal would put Washington in a more confrontational position with Iran and the last thing the American people need is another conflict in the Middle East in an already unstable, confusing region. However, decertifying the Iran deal does not mean that the deal is dead. The Europeans, the Chinese, and the Russians are confident that they can hold their end of the bargain, but a pullback would not be good for American leadership around the world, and it would only isolate us.
For the United States to unilaterally force the other signatories, including our European partners to renegotiate the deal is a violation of the deal. The irony when the Iran deal came into effect was that Iran would walk away from the deal, but a complete 180 happened when President Trump took office. Now, it looks like the United States is the one that will walk away first. The critics of the JCPOA are putting too much emphasis on Iran’s regional role rather than on the nuclear issue, and that is a cause of concern. This agreement was not in relation to Iran’s role in the Middle East, but it is about a narrow focus on the nuclear issue.
So far, Iran has been subject to very strict IAEA inspections of nuclear sites and the IAEA has repeatedly said eight times that Iran is complying with the JCPOA. Through the inspections, the IAEA has a tremendous amount of information on what is going on inside the Iranian nuclear program, and the frame of this issue is U.S trustworthiness around the world. A majority of the global community does not have a problem with the deal, except for Israel and Saudi Arabia, but the world is having a problem with Donald Trump violating and killing the deal. Within the details of the inspections, it is very difficult to find any violation from the Iranian side. For obvious reasons, the Iranians will not allow inspections inside military sites, but there is a mechanism that if the IAEA presents credible evidence of fishy activity in military sites, it would request access, and as long as the United States works with all the stakeholders at the negotiating table, the Iranians could open up their military sites for inspections. The problem for the Trump Administration is that they do not have any credible evidence of Iranian violations of the deal. U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley went to Vienna and presented nothing to convince the IAEA to buy into the Trump Administration’s views of the deal. Instead, Ambassador Haley tried to strong-arm the IAEA towards encouraging access to military sites, but the IAEA pushed back on this for a very simple reason. That reason is if the IAEA is used as a tool for the Trump Administration rather than a referee of the agreement, the IAEA would lose its credibility, and if it did lose its credibility, the deal would collapse. This would be dangerous because a collapse of the deal would allow Iranian hardliners to quickly moves towards a nuclear weapon, and we would blame ourselves for not taking the rational measures for this.
A U.S withdrawal from the JCPOA would drive the Europeans in the same position as the Russians and the Chinese against the United States. U.S policymakers need to realize that there is no crisis with the JCPOA. The deal is working, the IAEA has certified that it is delivering, and Iran is living up to the deal. In addition, a de-certification will turn into a crisis because President Trump has turned a functioning agreement that was overwhelmingly welcomed by the global community into a crisis. The most important aspects of the JCPOA, the inspections, and the additional protocol will be permanent. So long as Washington lives up to its end of the bargain on year eight of the agreement, the Iranians are obliged to ratify the additional protocol and make it a part of the law. In order for Iran to garner support from the global community, Tehran needs to go through a period where they need to prove that they can be trusted. This is why the IAEA is conducting reports and making sure that Iran is abiding by its end of the agreement. And so far, the eight most recent IAEA reports have made it very clear that Iran can be trusted to live up to the deal. In addition, if Iran abides by the agreement for the full fifteen years with a clean sheet, the path towards an achievable solution can be accomplished and the JCPOA should serve as both a role model for diplomacy and multilateralism. Also, if Iran continues to comply with the framework, they will be treated similar to any other member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran will not seek nuclear weapons, and they are obliged not to seek nuclear weapons, but they are entitled to have a nuclear program for peaceful purposes that includes enriching uranium.
In order for the Iran deal to keep functioning, Iran must continue to abide by the agreement despite the confusing signals coming out of Washington, and the Trump Administration must re-evaluate its role in the Middle East as well. If the JCPOA can become a success, maybe a rapprochement with Iran can help U.S interests such as security issues like combating terrorism, maybe an Iran can give the United States a maneuver in the region, economic issues like sending American businesses to Iran, increasing trade, cooperating on social issues like cultural exchanges, and fundamentally understanding each other is important not only for both Tehran and Washington, but for the entire Middle East. The Trump Administration needs to take Iran seriously as a regional player and if we can open cooperation with Iran, we can find peaceful solutions to the Middle East’s continuous, cancerous problems.
[i] “Remarks by President Trump to the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly” September 19, 2017 White House https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/19/remarks-president-trump-72nd-session-united-nations-general-assembly
[ii] “No need to renegotiate Iran nuclear deal: EU” September 21, 2017 The Sun Daily http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2017/09/21/no-need-renegotiate-iran-nuclear-deal-eu