The Implications Of President Trump’s Plan To Scrap The Iran Nuclear Deal

In October 2017, the White House made an announcement updating their position on the Iran Nuclear Deal.  As part of the deal, the US is required to certify that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the agreement every 90 days. Despite President Donald Trump being a highly vocal critic of the Iran deal, going as far as calling it “one of the most incompetently drawn deals (he’s) ever seen,” up until October his administration had begrudgingly certified that Iran had been in ‘technical compliance’ of the terms of the deal. However in early October, Trump publicly disparaged the Iranians for not keeping to the “spirit” of the agreement, sparking speculation that the President was set to decertify the deal in an effort to impose wider ranging restrictions on the Middle Eastern nation.

The Iran Deal – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – was agreed in 2015 and is a multilateral agreement between the P5 (USA, UK, the EU, China and Russia) Germany and Iran. Its purpose was to stifle Iran’s growing nuclear capabilities in an effort to minimise the potential nuclear threat of the nation in an already destabilised Middle East. In March 2015, representatives of the participating nation states met to discuss the terms of the agreement. A compromise was reached whereby Iran agreed to cease its research and development of nuclear related projects in return for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iranian businesses and energy firms. The negotiations resulted in the EU vowing to remove energy and banking sanctions and a US promise to free domestic and foreign economic sanctions on businesses who cooperate with Iran. In response to the lenient economic measures imposed, Iran agreed to reduce their varying amounts of stockpiled enriched uranium by 98% and any further uranium development activity was limited to using a single facility for the next 10 years. It was then agreed upon that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would monitor Iran’s compliance.

The Iran Nuclear Deal has received mostly positive reviews in the International Community. The British Government have publicly backed the JCPOA. Prime Minister Theresa May recently reasserted that the deal is “vitally important for regional security” while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson hailed the deal as “an historic achievement that has undoubtedly made the world a safer place.” Russian President Vladimir Putin too recently stated that according to the reports of the IAEA, “Iran fully meets all its commitments.” However, last month, Trump denounced the deal at the United Nations General Assembly as “an embarrassment to the United States.” The Trump administration believes that the lenient economic sanctions imposed merited a greater compromise. Trump himself has said that the deal was one of the most “one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into”. Critics of the deal are concerned that the parameters of the nuclear deal are not encompassing enough. Abbas Milani, the head of Iranian studies at Stanford University, commented that ongoing Iranian ballistic missile tests are “very troubling, and particularly because they are done by the radicals in the most provocative manner possible.”

While Trump has not yet scraped the JCPOA entirely, he did decertify the multinational deal. This means that the next course of action will be decided by Congress. They have 60 days (from the announcement made on the 13th October) to launch legislation reimposing sanctions on Iran. Thus far, Congress seem to be in agreement with Trump over Iran’s destabilising role in the region. Prominent Republican Senator, Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted, “I support @POTUS decision to decertify. Now Congress must either fix #IranDeal by creating triggers for sanctions or deal should end”. Outside of Washington however some commentators have warned of the implications of this decision. Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, reflected that “a failed certification would be the first step to unraveling the Iran nuclear deal and taking us to a new, devastating war of choice in the Middle East.”

While we wait to see whether the amended legislation will garner the 50 votes required in Congress to pass, it is important to note that Trump’s actions have signalled yet another step towards US isolationism in foreign policy. To reverse an already established and implemented  policy would significantly dent the credibility of America’s commitment to foreign policy – a reputation already slighted by the Trump Administration reneging of the Paris Climate Agreement.