JCPOA, US, Iran, Nonproliferation, Israel, Middle East, KSA

On 8th May, President Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), popularly known as Iranian nuclear deal, by re-imposing sanctions on Iran. However, he expressed his desire that Washington will work with its allies to find ‘real, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Iranian threat’. Following Trump’s withdrawal announcement, condemnation from within and outside the US started pouring in regarding Trump’s decision.

Trump remained a vocal opponent of the Iranian deal right from the start. During his presidential campaign, he termed it as a disaster, catastrophe and the worst deal ever. After assuming the presidency, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-National Security Advisor (NSA) H. R. MacMaster and Secretary of Defence James Mattis advised Trump to remain a party to the deal. Following the sacking of Tillerson and MacMaster in March, Trump replaced them with Iran hawks in the form of Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State and John Bolton as NSA. Like Trump, both Pompeo and Bolton also opposed the nuclear accord. In other words, Trump surrounded himself with officials who supported his viewpoint.

Despite American withdrawal, Iran and other signatories of the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have decided to remain parties to the international deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has already stated that he was preparing to resume industrial uranium enrichment if the E3 (Britain, France and Germany) fail to convince Iran that remaining party to the accord was worth it.

The Iranian nuclear deal is the latest multinational treaty from which the US has withdrawn under the Trump administration, hurting the credibility of Washington to honour its commitments. Trump decided to withdrew despite Iran’s compliance with the multinational accord. It also comes despite numerous attempts by European allies – Britain, France and Germany – to persuade the US to remain a party to the multinational accord. Experts are of the opinion that the Trump’s withdrawal decision has once again reinstated that he does not value partners or allies. The former American Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder has criticized Trump by writing that his ‘America First’ policy means viewing other states, whether allies or not, only by taking into account what they can do for the US.

From a strategic point of view, Iran itself is now in a better position as compared to the time prior to the signing of the accord. Back in 2015, the international accord did not only provide economic relief to Iran but also unfroze its assets worth $100-$150 billion dollars. These assets not only helped Iran in reviving its economy but to also pursue its interests in the Middle East through its proxies like Hezbollah and Houthis. Although, Iran has expressed its desire to renegotiate the deal with China, E3 and Russia, but the breakdown of the international accord will not stop Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

Back in 2015, the international accord did not only provide economic relief to Iran but also unfroze its assets worth $100-$150 billion dollars. These assets not only helped Iran in reviving its economy but to also pursue its interests in the Middle East through its proxies like Hezbollah and Houthis.

The unilateral withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal has been hailed by Israel and Saudi Arabia as the success of their lobbying efforts. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Muhammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia opposed the Iran deal because they felt that it brought the US and Iran closer and resultantly let the US become more accommodating to the regional wrongdoing of Iran in Syria and Yemen. With the US withdrawal, it seems unlikely that the US will get closer to Iran till Trump remains in office.

The withdrawal will also benefit the Iranian hardliners who have always been of the opinion that the US cannot be trusted. The American withdrawal is a severe blow to President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javed Zarif who argued that giving up the nuclear programme would lead to increased economic ties with rest of the countries. In other words, they advocated a foreign policy based on cooperation and integration rather than confrontation.

From an economic point of view, Trump’s withdrawal will affect both American and European companies. The secondary sanctions will not only target Iran’s oil sector but will hurt growing economic relationship between the European countries and Iran. Oil prices spiked to more than three years high following the withdrawal decision, and will be impacted in 2019 when sanctions will be fully imposed. It will also adversely affect the biggest importers of Iranian oil like China and India. The EU has been working up on contingency plans to protect companies against the American sanctions but observers term such efforts as symbolic. The Iranian economy is also a major loser because of American withdrawal. Following Trump’s announcement, Iranian rial hits a record low of 65,000 rials to $1.

Trump’s withdrawal from Iranian deal will also be viewed by Kim regime with scepticism. The administration of Kim Jong-un will have to decide whether to pursue the denuclearization approach with an American administration that does not honour the commitments of multinational accords to which it becomes a party.

The secondary sanctions will not only target Iran’s oil sector but will hurt growing economic relationship between the European countries and Iran. Oil prices spiked to more than three years high following the withdrawal decision, and will be impacted in 2019 when sanctions will be fully imposed.

With the absence of Plan B to deal with Iranian nuclear programme, Trump’s withdrawal decision is viewed by experts as the biggest US foreign policy blunder since the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. It is still early to predict the outcome of negotiations between Iran and other signatories regarding the nuclear deal. Failure to reach a consensus will not stop Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, which will leave the US with no option except military action and will trigger a conflict which will have adverse impacts on global security.

Fahad Nabeel

Fahad Nabeel is currently pursuing M.Phil in International Relations from National Defence University. He has graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Virtual University of Pakistan. Fahad has considerably researched on regional geo-political issues and militancy trends. Currently, he is working as a Senior Research Associate at CSCR.

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