The Iran nuclear deal is a controversial agreement, which is consequential for international security and the future of nuclear weapons proliferation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on 60 Minutes that he has at least “five ideas” as to how to cancel the deal and that he will present them to U.S. President Donald Trump.
Former President Barack Obama saw the agreement as his biggest foreign policy achievement, and his administration had turned a blind eye to Iran continuous ballistic missiles experiments and its destabilizing activities in the Middle East, shying away from using military force. Recently, U.S. and European officials say assertive Iran has, at least twice, violated its commitments since the deal was signed.
During his presidential campaign, Trump was labeling the nuclear pact as a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated.” In a 2016 speech in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he said that his “No. 1 priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” However, like many of his remarks during the presidential race, those too deserve a more skeptical look. Campaign rhetoric may be very different than policy implemented, as it seems to be aimed for domestic ears. President Trump will act very different from candidate Trump.
Although as president he is better positioned to call off the deal, he will find it is very hard to walk away from a multilateral agreement. Already he backed away from some of its campaign commitments and showed willingness to preserve at least some of the policies of his predecessor. Theoretically he can walk away from the deal, reached as a political commitment rather than a treaty ratified by lawmakers in the congress. However, it is a multilateral agreement (signed by the P5+1) that is enshrined in U.N. Security Council resolution.
Moreover, dismantling the deal might not just bring further instability to the Middle East but also might further complicate U.S. relations with its European partners as well with China and Russia. Those countries might not be willing to go back to the strict-sanctions regime, as they already started to build diplomatic and economic partnerships with Iran. More important, walking away from the deal might also drive Iran to go back to the nuclear path, starting again–this time faster–enriching uranium for military purposes, what could drive others in the region to do the same. It might also drive Israel again to consider attacking Iran’s nuclear installations for no better option.
Above all, it will be a mistake for the U.S. to back away from the deal now because, in the short term, the gains the international community gets from the deal are greater now and its risks are fewer. Trump should better police the deal making sure Iran fully implements the accord. In the mid-long term, the agreement is very problematic since then Iran will operate a legitimate, industrial-size program inches away from the capability to produce a bomb. In 10-15 years, if not sooner, Iran will be fully capable of constructing nuclear weapons. Tougher enforcement of Iran’s commitments under the agreement might push Iran itself to pull out–although the probability for that option is still low because Iran still has a lot to gain from it.
Trump should start pushing back on Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East, moving away from Obama’s narrow approach–seeing the latter through an arms-control lens–and not shy away from presenting a credible threat to use force against Iran for its propping up dictators such as Bashar al-Assad and supporting terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah.
Israel and others in the region may publicly cheer you, President Trump, if you do walk away from the JCPOA, but they would rather have you wriggle out from the Iranians more concessions, than create a situation where the Iranians were made free of obligations which they have accepted. While Iran may enjoy the situation of a wedge driven between the U.S. and the other P5+1 negotiators, they will have to face the challenge created by the U.S., which convinced the others that their serious omissions in the agreement need to be rectified.U.S. allies in the Middle East have been looking to an assertive, not destructive, U.S. policy. The other five in the P5+1 who negotiated with Iran may, albeit reluctantly, agree to approach Iran on the issues which the JCPOA left out, like missiles. However, they will leave the U.S. alone if the latter walks out of it.
Key issues and decisions which were handled feebly by the outgoing administration, call for reassessment and reassertion by the U.S. combination of U.S power projection, of a U.S toughened-up diplomacy and willingness to rethink long-held truths. There is lot to be said–for example, for a grand bargain between the U.S. and Russia. It can include Russia’s conduct in Europe, the political future of Syria and a revamped JCPOA. If all fail, there is always the possibility of walking away. But not yet.