Isolating Trump on Iran Nuclear Deal
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
On Tuesday, May 8, 2018, President Donald Trump will tell the world whether the U.S. will abrogate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA – the Iran nuclear deal). The Ward Post does not report breaking news, nor does it make predictions. The latter is virtually impossible with the Trump presidency. However, it is important to provide the context to Trump’s action on the JCPOA.
The U.S. capital, Washington DC, had some very important visitors in recent weeks; all with the same message. French president Emmanuel Macron came; German Chancellor Angela Merkel came; British foreign secretary Boris Johnson came. They were unanimous in their message for Trump – do not withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. They offered Trump the possibility of new negotiations with Iran to deal with the issues Trump finds objectionable. He could use that promise to postpone his decision. He is known to have turned 180 degrees before.
The only dissonant voice from foreign leaders on the JCPOA is that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From day one, Netanyahu has been bitterly opposed to the deal. He tried unsuccessfully to turn American public opinion against President Barack Obama and the JCPOA. In his failed campaign, he was aided and abetted by his supporters in the U.S. Congress. They all failed! Both the Senate and the House failed to reject the JCPOA and it took effect as planned. With Trump as president, Netanyahu intensified his campaign, and he is likely to succeed this time around. With new top foreign policy and security advisers, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton – both vehemently opposed to the Iran nuclear deal – the dynamics are weighted in favor of abrogation by the U.S. There will be consequences.
The U.S. is not the only party to the JCPOA agreed with Iran. The JCPOA is a comprehensive agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. That’s China, France, Germany, Russian Federation, U.K., and U.S., as well as the European Union. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international nuclear watchdog, has official responsibility for monitoring Iran’s compliance with the provisions of the JCPOA. U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as the intelligence agencies of other interested parties conduct their own independent verification.
Before the IAEA certified Iran’s compliance to allow the JCPOA to take effect on Implementation Day, January 16, 2016, Iran first had to take certain measures demonstrating the country’s irreversible commitment to end its nuclear weapons development program for the next ten years. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2231 (July 20, 2015) endorsing the JCPOA, lifting UN sanctions, and terminating prior resolutions on Iran’s nuclear program, effective on Implementation Day.
The failures of votes by both the Senate and House to block the JCPOA made it possible for President Barack Obama to waive the Iran non-proliferation sanctions. President Obama did not have the legislative authority to end the sanctions entirely; he could only waive them for 120-day periods. At the end of each period, the President decides on whether to sign another 120-day waiver. The current waiver ends on May 12, 2018, and Trump said he will not sign another waiver. The nuclear non-proliferation sanctions waived pursuant to the JCPOA are mandated by the U.S. Congress, and only the Congress can remove them entirely.
Interestingly, new sanctions were imposed by President Obama on Iran on January 16, 2016 for its missile program; and U.S. human rights sanctions against Iran were not affected by the JCPOA waivers.
Should Trump abrogate the JCPOA agreement, there will be consequences. European parties already indicated they will remain with the deal with Iran. They will also have to persuade Iran that the JCPOA will remain meaningful without the U.S. as a part of it. Because of the possible impact – the consequences – of U.S. re-imposed sanctions, it will be a hard sell. China and Russia will ignore re-imposed sanctions on Iran by the U.S. China and Russia will veto any attempt in the Security Council to re-instate UN the Iran sanctions. In the meantime, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the negotiations with Iran, is trying to persuade Iran to remain in the deal. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has urged Trump to remain in the JCPOA – the Iran nuclear deal. There is too much at stake. War with Iran is a possible future option.
There is no doubting Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. Both the U.S. intelligence community and the IAEA have repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance. At the same time, there is no question that Iran’s missile program raises major concerns for all, and Iran’s support for terrorism is extremely disturbing, including by the Europeans and the UN Security Council. But, this is not justification for abrogation of JCPOA. However, Trump is determined to reverse as many of Obama’s achievements as possible; even if it includes abrogating an international landmark agreement – the JCPOA. Trump’s approach to security and geopolitical issues is strict adherence to his position; diplomatic compromise is not an option; and Trump seeks to punish those countries which do not bend to his will.
Trump’s abrogation of the JCPOA will apply only to U.S. sanctions. But the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions will change the dynamics significantly, as there could be grave implications for countries which fail to abide by Trump’s wishes. Built into U.S. sanctions are penalties against sanctions violators. For example, U.S. financial sanctions will constrain foreign financial institutions from doing business with U.S. financial institutions if they do business with Iran. This will weigh heavily on foreign banks.
No one will argue in favor of Iran’s open defiance of UN decisions related to its missiles technology development program; no one has doubts about Iran’s support for terrorism; neither is there much doubt about Iran’s history of human rights violations. President Obama kept human rights and terrorism-related sanctions in place against Iran while suspending the nuclear proliferation-related sanctions, the focus of the nuclear deal.
China and Russia and many other countries will not support re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran. And, from the reports so far, neither will France, Germany, the U.K., and the rest of the E.U. It’s any body’s guess how Trump will respond. Defying Trump and isolating the U.S. will anger Trump. Should the rest of the world decide to stand up it will be difficult for Trump to do much about it; but he will try. He will target the most vulnerable countries; especially those with the highest level of economic and security dependency on the U.S. We can count on Trump to bully and extort weak countries into compliance. His administration has repeatedly stated ‘you are either with the U.S., or against the U.S.’ There is no middle ground. If you are against Trump, expect consequences.
Despite compliance certification by the IAEA and the US intelligence community, the process will begin for automatic re-imposition of the nuclear proliferation sanction regime should Trump fail to sign a new waiver, by May 12th. Trump’s decision is imminent.
© 2018 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post