Possible Impacts of Trump’s refusal to certify JCPOA
On October 13, US President Donald Trump announced his refusal to certify to Congress Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the grounds that he does not believe that the agreement the Obama administration and five other world powers reached with Iran in 2015 suspend its nuclear programme was strong enough to benefit “US national security interests.” However, he stopped short of asking Congress to re-impose sanctions on Tehran. The President, in effect, has urged the lawmakers to pass a new law, spelling out conditions under which sanctions could be reimposed as he has directed his administration “to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons,” and if that approach does not work, “then the agreement will be terminated.”
Trump’s move to send the Iran Deal issue to the Congress and ask them to attach new caveats to the deal is a risky gambit as it will undermine US credibility and the ability of the international community to manage further nuclear developments in Iran, North Korea and other places. The blowback to US national interests, however, goes much further as the move will result, ultimately, in either the collapse of the accord or the straining of relations between the US and its allies in Europe as well as Russia and China. Moreover, it will plunge an already volatile Middle East into greater turmoil.
From his refusal, it becomes absolutely clear that President Trump disdains Iran and the Nuclear Deal, at least in part, because it is a signature accomplishment of the Obama presidency — a legacy perhaps second only to the Affordable Care Act in its symbolic significance. That helps explain why the president has described the Deal as an “embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever,” hyperbole that has only made it more difficult for him to regularly report to Congress that Iran is actually doing its part.
The president prefers to wash his hands of the Deal and let Congress decide its fate. Refusing to confirm Iran’s compliance while laying out a broad case against Iran will, in effect, invite Congress to impose new sanctions. But if other signatories to the Deal side with Iran in declaring the United States in violation and resist US pressure to curtail their business dealings with Iran, all that “decertification” will achieve will be to open a rift between the United States and its European allies, Russia and China. On the other hand, if the United States wins over its allies, the Deal will be dead — and everyone can go back to worrying about war with a nuclear-armed Iran.
The United States is right to worry about Iran’s missile programme, as well as the scope of Iran’s regional influence and the manner in which it asserts that influence. But the course Trump is embarking on will only plunge an already volatile Middle East into greater turmoil, which will consume US attention and resources.
Iranian leaders interpret Trump’s hostility to the Nuclear Deal as proof that diplomatic engagement with the United States is a fool’s errand — that Washington will not abide by any diplomatic agreement and will construe willingness to pursue diplomacy as weakness and an invitation to apply more pressure. Already, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps has warned that Iran would retaliate against new sanctions, in particular the designation of the corps as a terrorist organization, by building and testing more missiles and labelling in kind the US military a terrorist organization — then targeting US bases and personnel.
Iran is not looking for war with the United States. But it is starting to think that it is better to act like North Korea. A recalcitrant, let alone aggressively anti-American, Iran would dramatically change the lay of the land for US foreign policy in the region.
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