The American Iranian Council is dismayed by the Trump administration’s decision today to pull out of the JCPOA.
As we stated on October 13, 2017 when President Trump decided not to recertify the Iran Deal, we oppose the action for a variety of reasons, including:
The fact that Iran has complied with the terms of the JCPOA. The IAEA has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance and top U.S. military and State Department officials have also confirmed that Iran is complying with the deal;
The JCPOA is not a bilateral agreement with Iran, but a multilateral agreement among the P5+1, which includes important U.S. allies who continue to express their support for the deal. Rejecting it puts the US on the opposite side of a major international agreement and its allies;
Scrapping the JCPOA is a dangerous precedent to set given the need for potentially similar diplomatic negotiations with countries like North Korea; and
Rejecting the nuclear deal harms US interests: it reduces the US' stature around the world and it replaces the benefits of the deal (such as stability and a non-nuclear Iran) with instability and uncertainty, which could result in additional US military presence in the region.
When we issued our statement back in October we believed that President Trump would use his hardline position on the JCPOA as an opportunity to spur new negotiations not just on the nuclear matter, but on all issues of concern between the US and Iran. Our view stemmed in part from President Trump’s own statements about seeking a broader strategy on Iran, and in part because the notion of replacing an imperfect deal with no deal at all, seemed like an ill-advised strategy.
And yet since October there have been robust efforts by our European allies to salvage the dealby recommending fixes on areas of contention (e.g., ballistic missile testing, Iran’s role in the Syrian civil war, etc.). Still, the Trump administration has rejected these efforts and chosen to pull out of the JCPOA.
Additionally, since October the Trump administration has become more hardline and hawkish with the addition of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton. The decision now to pull out of the deal – while seemingly illogical on its face – may, for an increasingly hardline administration, appear to offer only win-win scenarios:
Scenario 1: Iran chooses to remain in the deal with our European allies. It does not restart its nuclear program and the Trump administration is able to maintain the benefits of the Iran deal (a non-nuclear Iran), while still removing sanctions relief, hurting Iran’s economy and pushing toward its stated goal of regime change. Re-instituting sanctions will help maintain Iran’s status as an international ‘outcast’ while the US reaps the benefits of the diplomacy it rejects.
Scenario 2: Iran restarts its nuclear program, allowing the Trump administration to claim vindication in its choice to pull out of the deal (e.g., correctly identifying Iran as a “bad actor”) —and providing an excuse to oppose Iran’s nuclear program with military action – something members of the increasingly hardline administration have suggested they are open to pursuing.
Since the Trump administration’s motivation for pulling out of the deal appears to stem from this more aggressive and potentially militaristic position towards Iran, the AIC adds to our list of concerns about this decision what such hardline political calculations do not consider:
Severe reputational harm to the US and vindication of hardliners in Iran: Not only does pulling out of the deal cause the world to view the US as an untrustworthy and unreliable actor, but the US also garners deeper reputational harm by increasingly being perceived as an aggressor on the world stage and an unreliable proponent of peace. Such a perception plays directly into the hands of hardliners in Iran, offering them a ‘win’ in identifying the US as (a) an untrustworthy actor and (b) a scapegoat – allowing them to blame external forces for Iran’s economic difficulties rather than their own economic mismanagement;
Stain on diplomacy: The Trump administration’s rejection of diplomacy is a deep stain on the US State Department and the ideal of diplomatic resolution to conflicts that the US has cultivated throughout its history. Pulling out of the JCPOA harms not only the US’ reputation as a peaceful actor but given the US’ prominent role on the world stage, the peace-seeking institution of diplomacy more generally.
The cost of peace: In the scenario where Iran restarts its nuclear program and the Trump administration responds with force – having tossed aside diplomatic channels – the cost to both sides, will be severe. Even if this hardline administration seeks confrontation, it is important to note that Secretary of Defense Mattis who understands the potential costs, is one of the few remaining, strong supporters of the Iran Deal in this administration.
In the nearly thirty years that AIC has been working to improve US-Iran relations, we have encountered similarly difficult periods. While challenging, situations like this also present opportunity. After the re-imposition of sanctions by the US, there will be a period of reconciliation for a few months during which time the parties may choose to resolve their differences and negotiate a new deal. This period will come on the heels of the upcoming summit between President Trump and Leader Kim Jong-un of North Korea. If President Trump achieves a peaceful diplomatic resolution in that matter and receives praise for his diplomatic work, he may become newly interested in following such an achievement with an Iran deal as well. In the meantime, the American Iranian Council will continue to work towards that goal.