US President Donald Trump had launched his presidential bid on the slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’. He has, in slightly more than a year, made America more isolated and less secure by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear deal.
By unilaterally walking away from the Iran nuclear deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) –Trump has damaged the credibility of the US government when it comes to honouring its commitments; pitted Washington against its closest allies in European capitals and London; risked the security of the Persian Gulf region and beyond due to the potential spread of nuclear weapons; and significantly raised the possibility of another highly destructive war in the Middle East.
The deal was neither about fixing US-Iran relations nor regulating Iran’s foreign policy. It was a multilateral agreement, signed by the France, Germany, China, Russia, Iran, the US and the UK with the specific aim of rolling back the Iranian nuclear programme. Under the deal, Iran relinquished 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile, dismantled two-thirds of its centrifuges, destroyed its entire plutonium facility, abided by the most intrusive international inspection and monitoring regime, and gave up on producing a nuclear weapon in return for relief from international sanctions.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, top advisers to Trump – including the minister for defence – and the UN Security Council, Iran has fully complied with its obligations and the deal was working as intended. By withdrawing from the deal and re-imposing sanctions on Iran, Trump has violated the very agreement that Washington had negotiated and Iran had adhered to.
This nuclear deal was the signature foreign policy achievement of former US president Obama. Even during his election campaign, Trump had declared that he would tear up the deal once he becomes president. After he was sworn in, Trump made it clear on multiple occasions that he disagreed with Obama’s achievements and wants to undo his policies.
However, press reports have revealed that three of Republican Party’s key campaign donors – Sheldon Adelson, Bernard Marcus and Paul Singer – are members of the pro-Israel Republican Jewish Coalition. These billionaires could have demanded that the Iran deal be scrapped in exchange for the $40 million they contributed to Trump’s campaign.
Trump’s reckless actions have weakened moderates like President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and strengthened hardliners in Iran who can now further destabilise the region. At home, it has emboldened pro-war hawks like National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump’s decision has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been itching for a fight with Iran, and the Saudi government, which has been acting as a cheerleader.
For its part, Iran has acted with restraint following Trump’s announcement. China, Russia, the UN and the EU have expressed concern over the decision taken by Washington. France, Germany, and the UK have signalled their continuing commitment to the deal. However, credible actions and iron-clad guarantees by these three European countries in the face of US sanctions will determine the destiny of the Iran nuclear deal.
Iran has the option of either going along with the remaining partners of the deal or withdrawing from the deal after Washington has already violated it or even taking the extreme step of withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran will chalk out its future policy after a cost-benefit analysis of the incentives and assurances offered by the three European countries. It still remains to be seen if the European capitals that are in the teeth of US sanctions can offer a viable and attractive alternative to Tehran.
The imposition of unilateral sanctions by the US, without the cooperation of European allies, will not lead to the desired result UN sanctions that had a crippling impact on Iran’s economy during Obama’s tenure. Apart from being close allies of Tehran, Beijing – after Trump recently slapped tariffs on Chinese goods – and Moscow –which has faced sanctions since the Ukraine crisis – have no intention to cooperate with Washington.
The imposition of sanctions will increase oil prices that are already hovering around $70 per barrel. This will benefit Saudi Arabia, Russia, and, paradoxically, cushion Iran in case of revenue shortfalls due to sanctions-led export volume cuts. Riyadh, which is experiencing a severe revenue shortfall of its own, might not be willing to slash oil prices.
Trump has recently expressed a desire to conduct diplomatic talks with the North Korean leader, who already has a nuclear bomb, to persuade him to give up his nuclear arsenal. Given Trump’s recent decision to pull out of the Iran deal, the North Korean leader will not be inclined to trust him. Ironically, it also sends a signal to Iran to pursue the nuclear option in order to be taken seriously by Trump.
Mike Pompeo’s recent announcement to offer assurances to the North Korean leader in exchange for denuclearisation conveys a message to Iran: that it has made a mistake by negotiating the deal before attaining nuclear status.
Trump should primarily pursue diplomacy with Iran instead of imposing sanctions or opting for a war-induced regime change. Mending relations with Iran through diplomacy, instead of nixing deals, will stabilise the region.
The writer is an independent researcher based in Islamabad.