President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran deal places the United States, not Iran, in violation of the agreement, undermines the United States’ global leadership position and diplomatic power, and puts regional and global security at risk.
The United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the technical name for the Iran Deal, comes after several sources — including from within the Trump administration itself — have concluded that Iran has complied with the terms of the JCPOA thus far.
In addition to the International Atomic Energy Agency and European allies, the State Department issued a report in April that found Iran has fulfilled its nuclear-related commitments to date, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has previously stated that Iran is in compliance.
Moreover, the deal’s results speak to its importance. The JCPOA called for significant nuclear restrictions and robust inspections to verify compliance in exchange for sanctions relief. To date, 17,000 centrifuges and 97 percent of Iran’s highly enriched uranium stockpile have been removed and Iran’s only plutonium reactor, at Arak, has been disabled. Additionally, IAEA inspectors, as part of the most invasive inspection and verification regime in history, have been granted unprecedented access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain. No other agreement has ever halted Iran’s nuclear program like the JCPOA.
Given Iran’s compliance and the JCPOA’s effectiveness, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw and reimpose sanctions absent Iranian non-compliance places the United States in violation of the agreement, cedes America’s global leadership position, and ignores potential consequences that threaten regional and global security.
Hardliners in Iran are now emboldened. While Iranian hardliners have always been aggressive in their disdain and distrust of the United States, choosing to withdraw from the deal in the absence of any Iranian violation provides them with a political and public relations coup — they can now easily argue that the United States cannot be trusted in diplomatic talks.
Now the hardliners can argue that American untrustworthiness is reason to rip up the JCPOA and pursue the development of a nuclear weapon — after all, without the JCPOA and its inspection regime, Iran can pursue a nuclear weapon without constraints or monitors on its program. In fact, President Hassan Rouhani has already directed Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency to prepare for industrial enrichment without restriction, if it is determined to be in the national interest.
Negotiating partners, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, will be increasingly skeptical about America’s credibility in diplomatic talks. If the possibility exists that the United States may choose to violate or withdraw from any deal, partners will be less likely to offer concessions or agree to terms.
Additionally, despite his confidence and enthusiasm going into talks with North Korea, Trump will have to meet the standards he has set: stronger and more vigorous terms than those negotiated by the Obama administration for the JCPOA. Doing so will be extraordinarily difficult. Iran may have been in pursuit of a nuclear weapon — but North Korea already has dozens.
Meanwhile, America’s relationships with key European allies — the United Kingdom, Germany and France — are now further strained. Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron issued a joint statement expressing “regret and concern” regarding Trump’s decision, demonstrating unusual distance between the United States and close NATO allies on a matter of foreign policy and global security. Such distance between the United States and Europe serves only to benefit President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who will be delighted to see discontent in the trans-Atlantic alliance at a time when Russia is seeking greater influence in the Middle East and Europe.
Additionally, China, Russia, Europe and Iran may seek to continue implementation of the deal without the United States. While surely a better scenario than Iran developing a nuclear weapon, the ability for the deal to live on without the United States, however unlikely, will underscore our weakening global influence and enable others to profit economically without American competition.
The JCPOA is a historic agreement that was the result of tough, principled American-led diplomacy that has been successful in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon. The consequences of withdrawal are numerous, all of which undermine America’s global position and diplomatic strength. The JCPOA ensured a significant national security challenge was contained — but it is now wide open.