Foreign Policy Blogs

On Trump’s Decision to Withdraw From The Iran Deal

Donald Trump’s message and views on Iran have been remarkably consistent throughout his time in the public sphere. Even immediately following the deal’s successful negotiation, Trump came out against it, hurling a line many would become very familiar with: “Never, ever, ever in my life have I seen any transaction as incompetently negotiated as our deal with Iran.” After being persuaded to comply with the terms of the deal in the short term, “hawkish” advisors Mike Pompeo (Secretary of State) and John R. Bolton (National Security Adviser) began wielding more influence in the White House. With less internal resistance stopping him, Trump was finally able to fulfill an old campaign promise and he withdrew from the Iran Nuclear Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in Early May.

The completion of the deal involved a long and arduous negotiation process. In the end, President Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry were able to strike a deal with the Iranian government, led by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and five other countries (Russia, China, France, Germany, United Kingdom) to “ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful” in exchange for economic relief. Specifically, the deal, in its own words, would “produce the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions as well as multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear programme, including steps on access in areas of trade, technology, finance and energy.” Iran, on the other hand, agreed to a bevy of restrictions on their ability to enrich Uranium and obtain weapons grade Plutonium as well as gave international inspectors access to their nuclear sites. All reports indicated that Iran had been complying with the terms of the deal. In fact, the deal had other positive effects as well. Iran’s (slow) reintegration back into the Western world was certainly a factor in their more moderate foreign policy decisions. For example, Iran refrained from intervening in both Libya and Iraq following the signing of the deal. In fact, the Huffington Post reported that the government was actually encouraging diplomatic solutions to end the Libyan conflict.

Critics of the deal argued the United States was conceding too much economically for such a poor return from the Iranians. While those attacks are unfounded, as the deal without question significantly delayed Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon, they are also irrelevant. Trump’s withdrawal from the deal has created more detrimental impacts than even critics of the deal argued existed in the first place.

Part of the reason critics disapproved of the Iran deal was due to its front loaded nature. Essentially, Iran received many of the economic benefits it was promised before it completely fulfilled its end of the bargain. However, this very fact is one of the reasons why pulling out of the deal was especially miscalculated. Eric Lorber of the ForeignPolicy dot com reported in November of 2016 that “Iran [had] already received approximately $100 billion” in economic relief. The deal was lopsided when Trump pulled out because the United States had negotiated for long term benefits in stopping Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. Trump never gave us the ability to see the benefits materialize. Abandoning the deal when Trump did provided Iran with significant economic concessions while only setting their nuclear program back two years.

Most notably, Trump made this decision on the heels of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. It is downright absurd that the Trump administration thought it would be a good idea to back out of one nuclear agreement right before it went and tried to negotiate another. In fact, I’d argue the only reason the North Koreans did not back out of the summit immediately is because they believed it would be an opportunity to extract concessions from the Americans like they have in the past. In fact, North Korea has violated eight agreements since 1994 while gaining “concessions [like] being removed from the U.S. list of regimes that sponsor terrorism, shipments of food and fuel, the promise of light water plutonium reactors and the removal of crippling economic sanctions.” Indeed, the 2018 negotiations ended with Trump agreeing to stop US military exercises with South Korea for almost nothing in return, a decision that seemingly surprised South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The long term implications of this decision are incredibly severe. Iran now has two realistic options. First, it can pivot harder to Russia and China, solidifying their alliance with those two global powers and rely on them for economic aid, as they had before the deal. In the meantime, they would continue to develop their nuclear weapon capabilities. In fact, Iran’s relationship with China has tightened since Trump’s withdrawal. China has been eager to work with Iran, some hypothesize, because of the access the country would give to Middle Eastern markets. East Asia Forum reported in June that “an ability to rapidly traverse the Iranian plateau lies at the heart of Beijing’s geostrategic and economic ambitions in the 21st century.”

Iran’s second option is cracking under the economic pressure. A letter from the Trump administration admitted that they will aim to put “unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime.” There is a scenario in which Iran returns to the table and agrees to a more favorable deal with the Trump administration to escape economic ruin. This outcome is certainly possible, with economic impacts in the country already being seen. But as was the case in North Korea and Iran, historically, economic sanctions hit the citizens the hardest while leaving high ranking government officials unaffected. The only real consequences will be to President Hassan Rouhani, whose pivot towards the West unquestionably backfired due to Trump’s election and who will inevitably be blamed for the country’s economic hardship. Furthermore, Trump’s antagonization of Iran makes it unlikely any member of the government wants to come to the table while Trump holds the oval office. Even more importantly, Trump’s hardline diplomacy tactics have already been undercut by European officials who promised to stay in the deal to their best of their abilities and tried to convince Trump not to enforce secondary sanctions (the administration declined to agree to that framework). Critically, Iran knows support of the JCPoA still exists.

The Trump administration has taken an incredible risk, hoping Iran’s hardliners will crack under the economic pressure. The far more likely outcome, however, is nuclear proliferation to strengthen Iran’s negotiating hand and a stronger alliance with Russia and China.

Nader Granmayeh is a senior at Horace Mann High School where he is the co-Student Body President. He is currently an intern with Foreign Policy Association blogs division and is working on Zephyr Teachout’s attorney general campaign.

 

Author

Nader Granmayeh
Nader Granmayeh

Nader Granmayeh is a senior at Horace Mann High School where he is the co-Student Body President. He’s always been interested in politics, joining the school’s debate team in 7th grade and volunteering on five local campaigns. Most recently, he was an intern on Zephyr Teachout’s attorney general campaign and worked on the Foreign Policy Association’s blog division.

Nader is specifically interested in the Supreme Court and hopes to further his education by going to law school.

americasdiplomats_socialmediaasset