Trump is foolishly wrecking Iran N-deal

Trump has angered Tehran at a time Iranian fighters are partnering US troops against IS in Iraq, Syria.

Instead of dealing intelligently with the very real threat posed by a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and missiles for targeting US cities, Donald Trump has focused on Iran, which possesses no nuclear bombs yet, by declaring that the deal to dismantle its nuclear programme is not in US interests.

Required by Congress to “certify” Iran is in compliance with the 2015 agreement, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Trump refused, demanding changes and compelling the divided and dysfunctional Congress to decide within 60 days whether to re-impose punitive sanctions on Iran, lifted in exchange for Tehran severely limiting its nuclear research.

If Congress decides on sanctions, the US, not Iran, would be condemned as the first to violate the terms of the JCPOA. By falling back on Congress, Trump took a coward’s way out in order to shed a presidential campaign pledge to “rip up” the JCPOA, which he considers a “disaster” and the “worst deal ever” and says he will terminate it if Congress and the other signatories to the deal fail to fix it.

Trump faced opposition from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which closely monitors Iran’s compliance and reported eight times that Tehran is honouring the deal. The three US generals in his entourage and experts in the nuclear field did their utmost to dissuade him from wrecking the deal. Its other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — argued if the JCPOA collapsed, Iran could, in theory, quickly amass a new stockpile of fissionable material and build nuclear warheads to fit on its ballistic missiles in response to the US re-imposition of sanctions.

Such a drastic 180-degree shift in Tehran’s policy would, however, be unlikely as Iran could count on the backing of signatories other than the US, as well as Iran’s trading partners and investors, including India, to ensure sanctions — which had undermined its economy and harmed 80 million Iranians —would not bite as they did before the JCPOA was agreed. Leaky sanctions would humiliate and defy Trump and Congress.

Trump’s dramatics over the JCPOA have created deep uncertainty on the international scene, already shaken over his determination to withdraw from Unesco, the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump’s eccentric behaviour has also seriously undermined trust in the US government and political system which elevates such a person to a position of power in the world’s most powerful country. To counteract his malign impact, the European Union and other influential actors could very well tilt toward Russia and China.

The Iranians — who have mistrusted the US since the 1979 revolution that ousted Washington’s ally, the Shah — expressed a lack of trust in JCPOA precisely because the US could, ultimately, destroy it. An opinion poll taken in September 2015, after the JCPOA was signed, revealed that 45% of respondents thought the US would not meet its commitment to lift sanctions; a poll conducted last month showed that figure had risen to 77%.

Unkept promises

The Iranians are right. The US, first under former president Barack Obama and then under Trump, has not honoured its commitments. The US Treasury Department continues to limit Iran’s freedom to bank, conduct financial transactions, and secure investors by threatening to sanction foreign governments, banks and businesses seeking to trade with Iran. Consequently, Iranian civilians have not yet benefitted from the JCPOA, inflation and unemployment remain high, foreign investors are leery of Iran, and goods in short supply due to sanctions are still not available or are highly priced.

Trump’s stand on the JCPOA has angered Tehran at the very time Iranian fighters are partnering US troops in the campaign to crush the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The cult would still be a power in both countries if it were not for Iran-backed militias and military trainers and advisers. But even before Islamic State is defeated, the US seeks to curb Iran’s influence in both Iraq and Syria. This will not happen even if Trump continues its antagonistic trumpeting and attempts to sanction Iran outside the ambit of the JCPOA.

Iran’s hardliners and moderates, who have united to resist Trump’s destructive actions, will defend influence gained through the expenditure of blood and treasure. Trump’s only option is to cut US losses and court Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, with the aim of boosting his position and ending nearly 40 years of hostility.

Washington must realise that Iran can act as a spoiler of US policies in Yemen — where the US is supporting an ill-advised, devastating Saudi-led war — and Afghanistan — where the US is still battling the Taliban 16 years after invading that country.

The US has to understand that Iran is a power in West Asia because it is geographically part of the region. Iran has a large population of well-educated people and oil revenues to project its political reach. By contrast, the US is operating as a neo-colonial power from a distance or from military bases here and there and is deeply disliked by the people of the region.

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