Three months ago, on the two-year anniversary of the Iran Nuclear Deal, President Trump reluctantly certified that Iran is complying with the international nuclear agreement that prevents Iran from attaining an atomic weapon.
But not anymore.
Trump told the world last Friday that Iran is not in compliance with the Deal, even though they are, and that the Deal needs to be renegotiated, even though our allies, and even our enemies, do not agree.
Many of us were surprised that we got so much out of the Deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It really stopped Iran’s weapons program cold and will keep it that way for the foreseeable future.
As long as we don’t scuttle it.
The Deal has to be recertified by the United States President every 90 days by declaring that Iran is in compliance. Trump has been annoyed at having to do this. By not certifying, we will begin to stop the intense scrutiny of Iran that is so important to preventing them from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We won’t know if and when they stop complying because we will have removed ourselves from the process.
Iran is actually meeting the terms of the nuclear deal hammered out in Switzerland two years ago by the United States-led P5+1 Group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, United States, plus Germany). According to the United Nations’ nuclear watch dog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran shipped nearly its entire fissionable stockpile to Russia last year, over 12 tons of enriched uranium that could have been used to make uranium atomic bombs. Iran then mothballed thousands of centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium for this type of atomic weapon.
Iran also removed the core of its heavy water reactor at Arak, and filled it with concrete. That reactor could have produced plutonium for the other type of atomic bomb, one that is more easily mounted on missiles, like the ones North Korea has. And Iran has allowed facility inspections like no other nuclear country has ever done.
This was a really sweet deal.
Trump’s action comes at a time when two-thirds of Americans feel that President Trump will get us into another major war, and half of Americans think he will use nukes when he gets the chance. Neither of these is good for America.
Worse yet, Trump’s action plays into the hands of Iran’s hardliners, who have been telling the world, and their own people, that the United States cannot be trusted. The decision not to recertify gives these hardliners more power in Iran, especially over moderate President Rouhani. The possibility of moving Iran away from its entrenched theocracy rests with moderates like Rouhani. And the moderates have staked their survival on the success of this nuclear deal.
Iran’s hardliners want to get their nuclear program back on track and destabilize the region even more. ‘It could very well mean war between the U.S. and Iran, or Israel and Iran or some combination of the two,’ said Wayne White, former senior State Department intelligence official for the Near East and South Asia in the Bush Administration.
Not re-certifying the Deal does not withdraw the United States from the Deal but punts the issue over to Congress, which has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran.
No one is fooled by the Administration’s repeated cry that Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement by being nasty in other ways. The Deal itself was only to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and to help bring it back into the global community so Iran wouldn’t want to produce one in the future. It wasn’t supposed to deal with other non-nuclear issues like terrorism, regional conflicts and human rights abuses, but was meant to remove nuclear from their equations before they get out of hand.
From the standpoint of Iran and our allies, not certifying the Deal or re-imposing sanctions by our Congress, would constitute a material breach of the Deal by the United States. But the Deal could survive without the United States, since Iran still feels that having nuclear weapons is not worth it. But Iran does want the respect that goes along with being able to build one if it wants to.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, emphasized that Iran would continue complying with the Deal if the other signatories agreed. Zarif said: ‘The Europeans have made it very clear to us and to the United States that they intend to do their utmost to ensure survival of the deal.’ The only thing that our withdrawal from the Deal would accomplish is to further isolate the United States and really damage our credibility to negotiate future agreements in good faith.
In a bizarre twist, since the Deal was codified through a United Nations Security Council resolution, re-imposing sanctions by the United States, or withdrawal from the agreement, would contravene international law and place the United States in legal jeopardy.
No one ever dreamed that the United States would be the one to deliberately sabotage this Deal, so the dispute resolution mechanisms in the agreement aren’t very clear on what to do now. Since the United States sits on the U.N. Security Council, and we sit on the Joint Commission of this JCPOA, we can veto anything and just stop the grievance process from going forward.
This would give Iran tacit approval to restart its nuclear weapons program, and remove the transparency and inspection measures that Iran has found so intrusive but which it had to agree to under the deal. As European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini put it, ‘We already have one potential nuclear crisis [in Korea]. We definitely [do] not need to go into another one.’
The rest of the world would definitely blame the United States and continue sanctions relief without us, putting us, again, at odds with our allies. Mogherini has already stated that the EU wants to be Iran’s largest trading partner.
The world’s diplomats are very concerned about all this, and openly wonder how long they can trust the United States. In addition to the Iran Deal, Trump has pulled us out of the Transpacific Partnership, pulled out of the Paris Agreement on climate, is threatening to go his own way on the North American Free Trade Agreement, and is wavering on our promises to support our allies against Russia.
Without a strong and trusted United States leading the free world, much of that world will begin to drift and become unstable, even in Europe. That instability, plus Russia’s bold meddling in other countries, will allow Russia to expand its influence even more.
Everyone in the United States has forgotten what the world was like without American leadership. It would be a horrible lesson to have to relearn.