What we know as the Iran Nuclear Deal, an agreement years in the making, may soon be swept away in the wake of Trump’s presidency. The deal, formally referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), sought to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through a multitude of complicated and expansive measures. It was negotiated by Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Germany, and the European Union. The provisions installed ranged from reducing the volume and grade of Iran’s uranium stockpile to modernising a heavy water research facility to support peaceful nuclear research. Perhaps most importantly, the deal implemented a comprehensive regime of inspections and oversight to ensure that Iran is complying with its side of the bargain. This deal was, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, “a demonstration, quite simply, of the power of diplomacy to be able to address major problems short of war.”
However, not all see it as such. Then-Republican primary front-runner Donald Trump addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee late in March of 2016. In the address, Trump stated, “my number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” So how could one interpret this deal as “disastrous”? You see, there is a catch. After fifteen years, many of the key provisions increasing the “breakout time,” or the time it would take for Iran to gather enough material to create a nuclear weapon, will expire. This is greatly concerning given that the breakout time, currently estimated to be around a year, would be reduced to just a few weeks or months. The aforementioned provisions include round-the-clock monitoring of Iran’s uranium mining activities, manufacturing sites, and other associated facilities and will not expire for even longer. The IAEA’s monitoring of centrifuges will continue for 20 years, uranium mills and mines for 25 years, and after these sunset an even more invasive regime called the Additional Protocol will be installed. Once ratified, which is required of Iran within 8 years, it will allow for short-notice inspections of all sites, both declared and undeclared, permanently. Iran will also have to adopt Code 3.1, mandating Iran to notify the IAEA when it decides to build a nuclear facility and provide updates on the design of existing ones. If this was not enough to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, the deal permanently prohibits “activities...that could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” The international community will also take this fifteen year grace period supplied by the JCPOA to come up with additional measures to further discourage Iran in its efforts to create one of the single most powerful weapons on planet Earth.
These fine-tuned percentages of grades and stockpiles will be for nothing if the United States backs out of the deal. But what is the likelihood of that happening, and what consequences would result? Trump has filled his cabinet to the brim with opponents of the JCPOA such as the new Secretary of Defense, General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, but it’s not as compromising as it seems. While Mattis has in fact been a continued critic, in a testimony to his own senate confirmation hearing, he claimed the United States should keep its word and respect it. Another factor Trump must consider is the opinion of allies, specifically those of the oil-producing gulf states such as Saudi Arabia. These countries issued an endorsement of the deal, deciding “it was the best among other options,” according to Khalid al-Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar. He is also “confident that what they undertook makes this region safer and more stable.” By backing-out, these gulf states could reduce exports to the United States, increasing oil and gas prices for the average American citizen. We are uncertain of the actions Iran could take; possibly backing out the deal themselves and progressing further towards nuclear arms, and in the most dire circumstance, entering a war comparable to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Another concern of the President’s is the possibility of Iran not holding true to the deal. In that same address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Trump asserted that his “biggest concern with the deal is not necessarily that Iran is going to violate because already, you know, as you know, it has.” While this true, it is not as concerning as one might be led to believe. Iran surpassed the heavy water limit and as a result the excess was shipped to the U.S., along with a statement by the U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Tone, “It’s important to note that Iran made no effort to hide this, hide what it was doing from the IAEA”. Iran has a vivid history of disobeying U.N. Resolutions, just recently Iran has tested ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads which is a direct violation of multiple Resolutions. Iran’s past is greatly concerning, but they seem to be coming around. In fact, the deal seems to be having a moderating effect on the Iranian Government. The general populace is pleased that oil is cheap, European business leaders are bringing major deals, such as the recent sixteen billion dollar deal with Boeing, and most importantly, Iran is warming up to the West. The voters recognized that these economic benefits were brought due to communication and cooperation, and went to the polls. A wave of reformers were elected, and many anti-west “hardliners” lost their seats, across multiple positions in the first election in Iran since the deal. On the other hand, the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “anyone who thinks negotiations are more important than building a missile system are traitors.” With the Supreme Leader’s health deteriorating, and the body of 88 members that chooses a new Supreme Leader becoming ever more reformist amid the election, perhaps the next Supreme Leader may not be as anti-west as the current, and possibly even one that embraces the West.
The revolutionary deal displaying the power of democracy known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is in turmoil. While it has had a moderating effect on Iran, secured peace for the next
fifteen years, and installed an intensive inspection regime, many see these benefits outweighed by the fact that Iran’s breakout time will drastically decrease after 15 years. This is concerning
to many, including Donald Trump, the man who now holds the single highest political position of power in the United States, has vowed to walk away from the deal but is surrounded by those that
demand its respect. What Trump will do is up in the air. The effects of backing out are unknown and possibly catastrophic. The future is uncertain, and the fate of the deal is unknown.