November 10, 2017

President Trump Wants to Have His Iranian Cake and Eat It Too

Nina Robins ‘19

Friday, October 13 certainly lived up to its inauspicious expectations. Early in the afternoon, the world came one step closer to witnessing a nuclear Iran.
This change was initiated by President Donald Trump’s decision to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action after a quarterly evaluation. More commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, JCPOA was negotiated by the Obama Administration and six other countries, including Iran, in 2015. The bulk of the deal calls for Iran to temporarily halt its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Trump called the agreement “one of the most incompetently drawn deals I've ever seen” in part because of its failure to clearly outline its “benefits” to the United States. He believes that pledging $150 billion to Iran, whose government funds multiple terrorist groups, is foolish.
Despite Iran’s concerning alliances and threatening behavior, it is important to value its cooperation with the United States in any capacity. JCPOA was monumental, in part, because it was a step toward the recovery of American-Iranian relations following the disastrous Iranian Revolution in 1979. Given the shattered state of diplomacy between these two nations, JCPOA was a crucial leap forward, but on Friday the 13, we took an undeniable jump backward.
Although Trump’s decertification of JCPOA does not technically guarantee that the United States will withdraw from the deal entirely, the prospects of negotiations with Iran seem slim for a number of reasons, the most obvious being a press conference in which Trump voiced blistering criticism of the Iranian regime
Moreover, President Obama originally negotiated JCPOA as a strictly nuclear deal. Even the agreeable Obama and John Kerry, his secretary of state, could not manage to negotiate a deal with Iran that was free of loopholes and could guarantee nuclear-free Iran forever. How, then, could an aggressive Trump be able to convince an obstinate Iran to accept further nuclear concessions as well as other, non-nuclear demands, such as the call to cease funding to terrorist groups.
Obviously, no sane person wants to gift billions of dollars to an anti-western, terror supporting dictatorship. However, I would much rather negotiate with a somewhat cooperative country without nuclear weapons than with a hostile one that could potentially be receiving nuclear arms from another hostile source. In addition, if the United States could have continued civil relations with Iran, perhaps the regime would have been more likely to stop funding terrorism in the future.
Trump should not kid himself into believing that Iran will readily acquiesce to American desires. The scars from the past are still prevalent, and the United States is in no position to demand concessions from Iran without expecting severe rebuttal.
Trump’s decision has not only garnered opposition from the Iranian government and the President’s political rivals in the U.S., but it has also been criticized by American allied nations as well as some of the President’s political allies. Regardless, Trump has insisted on following his own advice and harshly attacked Iran’s leadership and the deal.
Trump’s dismissing the advice of his cabinet and other experienced diplomats should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his first year in office, but it is no less disturbing. Trump himself selected his cabinet members and should have trusted their expertise when they said that toying with the deal would only lead to dangerous repercussions.
The European diplomats who criticized Trump’s brash actions were just as qualified as his cabinet to offer guidance. European leaders have a much more tangible grasp on the Iranian nuclear crisis than American leaders because of their geographical proximity to Iran and the rest of the volatile Middle East. While a nuclear Iran is far more than an ocean away from the United States, Europe has a cushion of just hours.
European leaders recognize that Iran is unstable and disagreeable, but if they insist on retaining the deal for the sake of their own safety, the United States should follow suit. Instead, Trump has recklessly followed his own path of “America first” policy, which may result in severe damage to longstanding American diplomatic relationships.
Trump’s claim that the United States does not see any immediate benefits from JCPOA is severely misguided. Although America has not received any revenue from Iran as a result of the deal, one major benefit jumps to mind: Iran’s nuclear program has been suspended, or, even if Iran is continuing nuclear operations covertly, the international community is now paying attention and holding Iran accountable.
By choosing to decertify JCPOA, Trump alluded to a clean break from the deal in the future. If this were to occur, Iran would most likely place their nuclear agenda in high gear and directly target the United States and our allies. In a worst-case scenario, a break in diplomatic efforts with the United States could even prompt Iran to seek an alliance with North Korea.
Concerns regarding JCPOA’s “sunset clauses” – loopholes in the deal that would allow for Iran to accumulate massive stores of weaponry at the deal’s conclusion – exist in conservative circles. However, if the United States and Iran hypothetically follow through on the deal to its end, it is more likely that Iran will be willing to abide by the deal’s terms that permanently prevent Iran’s accumulation of nuclear weaponry. Even if Iran does not obey, reinstituting crippling sanctions (at this point with the support of the greater international community) would be an effective strategy.
An optimal solution to JCPOA’s flaws would not have been to bulk up the deal and make it harsher toward Iran. Rather, Trump could have instead kept the nuclear deal as-is and addressed the sunset clauses and support of terrorist groups as separate issues. In this way, the United States could have kept the other JCPOA signatories, most importantly Iran, on the negotiating table and further limited the prospect of an active nuclear Iran.
Ultimately, Trump decided to follow through on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s advice to “fix [the deal] or nix it.” However, his failure to wholly address the benefits of a flawed but existing compromise may ultimately lead the United States or its closest allies to become nixed by a nuclear Iran.

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