By Campaign Agent Luke Jeffery
Trump has never liked the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran (JCPOA). Indeed, he went as as far as to label it the ‘worst deal ever’. On an appropriately apt Friday 13th October, he gave a speech on exactly this topic and gave us all an insight into what he thinks of the deal and what his steps America would make going forward to confront Iran. In an unusually serious address, Trump explained by way of many assertions that he would be prepared to extract the US from the deal and risk jumping straight into a new foreign policy crisis. He did not, however, say exactly that.
After thirteen years of negotiation between many partners, including the United Nations Security Council P5 + 1 (Germany), why is Trump so intent on getting the US out of the deal, especially if it will result in a potential crisis and have a lasting impact on American credibility?
Firstly, Trump maintains that the JCPOA is a one-sided agreement that does not benefit the USA in any way. However, many (including Rex Tillerson) have managed to persuade the President that pulling out of the deal would be detrimental to US interests. Indeed, part of the deal requires the President to certify that ‘suspension of its sanctions is appropriate and proportionate to the specific and verifiable measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program’ as well as ‘vital to the national security interests of the United States’. Basically, Trump has to tell congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the deal. Importantly this goes against the President’s past promises on the deal and is also seen as a personal humiliation for the man himself.
The speech began with Trump listing aggressive acts carried out by the Iranian government towards the US since 1979. He called Iran ‘the regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks’. In fact, only The Iranian Revolutionary Guard supports Hezbollah, but not the Taliban or Al-Qaeda as suggested. Here, Trump’s words are in line with State Department reports on terrorism by country released in July 2017 and other voices in his cabinet stress that this is but one reason why Iran cannot be trusted.
Trump continued on this tract by declaring that ‘the Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement…’, such as exceeding heavy water limits and failing to ‘meet expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges’. These assertions are somewhat true as Iran has slightly exceeded the heavy water limits and centrifuges it is allowed to operate, but this has not silenced supporters of the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed since 2015 that Iran has complied with the deal’s restrictions. The long term affect of which ultimately pushes back Iran’s ability to acquire nuclear weapons.
Other White House officials, most notably the UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, have pointed out that Iran’s conduct of ballistic missile tests risks raising tensions between Iran and the US, despite missile tests being allowed under the deal. Importantly Ms Haley suggested in an earlier speech that ‘Iran’s leaders want to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage to its bad behaviour… it is this unwillingness to challenge Iranian behaviour, for fear of damaging the nuclear agreement, that gets to the heart of the threat the deal poses to our national security’. Haley’s speech identifies with that of President Trump but similarly falls short of calling for American dismissal of the deal. This is ultimately because the majority of Trump’s national security cabinet do not share this view.
Secondly, Trump claims that ‘Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal’. Leading with this statement, Trump built up to his promise to reinstate the economic sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the Obama administration in 2015. As previously mentioned, Trump has had to certify the agreement every 90 days as acknowledgement that Iran is complying with the deal; this means that since he became President he has had to enter a cycle of allowing Iran to continue with its nuclear program, repeatedly betraying his past promises on the deal. With this in mind, the President declared that ‘it [the agreement] is under continuous review, and our participation can be cancelled by me, as President, at any time’. Soon after Trump made this statement other partners to the deal were quick to dispute this fact, with Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs minister, pointing out that the ‘JCPOA is not a bilateral agreement’. Other leaders, including Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel published a joint statement saying that they were committed to the JCPOA as it was ‘unanimously endorsed’ by the UNSC.
Towards the end of the speech, Trump did not manage to conclude whether he would withdraw the US from the deal, but instead chose to administer a challenge to both Congress and America’s allies. He called upon Congress and the United Nations to address the problems of the deal and stated that if they failed to reach an agreement, the JCPOA would be ‘terminated’. The impetus is now on Congress and the UN to try and get a better deal, even though most know this is very unlikely to occur. Trump seems potentially willing to at the very least initiate another foreign policy crisis at the behest of living up to his past promises.
In summary, this speech Trump made several false claims that Iran is not in compliance with the deal, even though they are considered to be. He did not proclaim that he would remove America from the deal, but since then he has decided to decertify it; returning it to Congress. This would be a disaster for the United States as they would openly be in breach of the agreement, resulting in gains for hard-line Iranians. On the other hand, if America were to pull out of the deal they risk becoming further isolated with regards to foreign policy, not to mention dealing a further blow to US credibility in other international deals. Ultimately Trump has sparked another potentially nuclear foreign policy crisis and has placed US negotiating credibility on the table as collateral. Critically, without the US, the deal would remain in place, but its sustainability would be questioned. So, with the ‘factual record’ that Trump ‘put forward’ he has dealt a blow to the JCPOA, but a considerably bigger one on his own United States.
Sources and further reading:
- Trump’s Monumental Iran Deal Decision Explained’, Vox
- Fact-checking President Trump’s speech on the Iran Deal, Washington Post
- Trump’s attack on the Nuclear Deal is bad news for Iran – and for the US, Global Risk Insights
- Iran nuclear deal: Trump's speech in full, BBC
- Trump playing a risky game on Iran nuclear deal, CNN
- If Trump says Iran violating nuclear deal, does not mean U.S. withdrawal: Haley, Reuters
- Declaration by the Heads of State and Government of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, Gov.uk
Image John Pemble @Flickr