Killing the nuclear deal would be foreign policy malpractice

Killing the Iran nuclear deal would be foreign policy malpractice
4 min read
01 May, 2018
Comment: Trump's promise to kill the deal if elected president was ignorant and ill-advised, writes Imad K. Harb.
Merkel and Macron failed to convince Trump to safeguard the deal [Getty]
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington last week to discuss with President Donald Trump the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Despite their arguments, it appears that the American president will most likely stick with the promise he made during his presidential campaign to scuttle the agreement. Macron himself minced no words, stating that he expected Trump to withdraw from the JCPOA.

Three specific indications affirm this unfortunate conclusion.

Cutting off the nose to spite the face

If there is one certainty about President Trump, it is that he is totally ignorant of the details of the nuclear deal with Iran. All he knows is that he wants to undo one of the legacies of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

His promise to kill the deal if elected president was ignorant, ill-advised, and a foreign policy position that is now plain for all to see. But for the president and his current advisors to continue to speak ill of the nuclear deal, is utter foreign policy malpractice.

Since the signing of the JCPOA and enshrining it in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (2015), the international community, nuclear and military experts, and all those in the know, have vouched for the agreement. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has periodically reported on Iran's abiding by its provisions.

Given his unfounded conviction that Iran is violating the JCPOA, he thinks that the missiles will soon carry nuclear warheads

Even military chiefs in Israel - supposedly the country most affected by a nuclear Iran - have said they oppose ending the deal.

The Macron and Merkel trips to Washington were made specifically to stress the importance of adhering to the deal's details. They also were tailored to highlight the very obvious dire repercussions from doing away with the JCPOA.

Still, President Trump demurred on the prospects for the nuclear agreement and neither visitor left with a positive response to the arguments to preserve it.

Revisiting sanctions provisions

Another indicator of the president's impending decision concerns sanctions provisions. One such provision would end the waiver on sanctions against Iran after 12 May. Another would impose fresh sanctions by 11 July.

Either of these scenarios is likely for a president who has made "Iranian malfeasance and treachery" common refrains since before he came to the White House.

While almost everyone agrees that long-term sanctions have been at least partly instrumental in convincing Iran to negotiate over its nuclear programme, not so many are convinced that re-imposing them will keep Iran in compliance with the deal.

Read more: European manoeuvring on Iran is short-sighted

Indeed, Iran entered the American-led negotiations specifically to rid itself of international and US sanctions. For it to now accept staying in the agreement while sanctions are re-imposed, would amount to masochistic behaviour, and only satisfy Donald Trump.

In other words, if the American president somehow comes to see the folly of outright withdrawal from the JCPOA - a very unlikely scenario - and instead opts for new sanctions, he will basically assure the same outcome of killing the JCPOA.

Upgrading the old deal

While in Washington, Macron floated the idea of upgrading the JCPOA to satisfy Trump on what he sees are the agreement's shortcomings: Sunset clauses and Iran's ballistic missiles.

The JCPOA specifies sunset dates on enrichment, centrifuge storage and idleness, and level of enrichment to 3.5 percent for 10 to 15 years after which Iran would be allowed to resume peaceful nuclear activities.

Like domestic and international detractors of the agreement, President Trump has no faith that Iran will live up to these limitations, although the IAEA has since 2015 verified the Islamic Republic's compliance.

Trump has also railed about the agreement's non-inclusion of provisions to limit Iran's development of ballistic missiles. Given his unfounded conviction that Iran is violating the JCPOA, he thinks that the missiles will soon carry nuclear warheads.

From the look of things, neither upgrading the JCPOA nor renegotiating its provisions are easy or quick fixes. They thus are unlikely to succeed. Russia and China, signatories of the JCPOA, are not enthusiastic about the prospects.

Iranian leaders have stated their steadfast unwillingness to re-visit the nuclear deal in any form, or to accept any interference in their missile development.

In fact, Iranian conservatives and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are waiting for any hint of official openness to this proposal to pounce on the JCPOA and declare it null and void.

And herein is the rub.

Under the guise of a European proposal for upgrading the deal, Trump may be setting a trap for Iran. Once its leaders reject this seemingly benevolent plan, the American president will have a dubious justification to withdraw from the deal.

Given Trump's uninformed stubbornness and lack of restraint, the coming few weeks will most assuredly be pivotal for American foreign policy and reputation around the world.


Imad K. Harb is the Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.

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