Iran's Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (right) and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini give a joint press conference after a meeting on April 16, 2016 in the capital Tehran. Mogherini arrived in Tehran on her first visit since a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers came into force as tensions surface over its implementation. (Agence France -Presse/Atta Kenare)
U.S. President Donald Trump has made it one of his key campaign promises to pull his country out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Recently in a speech to the United Nations he called the deal “one of the worst…transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Global response to the speech was prompt—allies such as Germany warned Trump that pulling out of the deal would result in immediate consequences for the U.S. and the EU. If Trump does withdraw from the nuclear agreement, not only will he jeopardize the credibility of the United States but he will also pave the way for Iran to acquire nuclear capabilities, directly contradicting Western interests.
The Iran nuclear agreement was reached in 2015 with Iran, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the European Union. It restricted Iran from enriching uranium past 20% and had Russia confiscate its nuclear fuel in exchange for the removal of harsh sanctions. The deal was signed after years of tension and fear over the possibility that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon. Donald Trump made his distaste for the deal a central part of his presidential campaign and vowed to “tear it up” if elected.
State-owned Chinese media has warned Trump that doing so would make it more difficult to reach a deal with North Korea. The China Daily stated that it sends the message to Pyongyang that the US “could not be trusted to honor any deal that was reached.” European allies such as Germany sent a similar warning to the US that their credibility would be tarnished if they established a reputation for changing agreements. North Korea will be watching closely to observe how the US handles the nuclear deal, and if Trump chooses to withdraw despite the fact that Iran is complying with the agreement – finding a solution to the crisis in the Korean peninsula could be indefinitely delayed.
The entire situation parallels the breakdown of a past nuclear agreement with North Korea, conceived in 1994 by Bill Clinton and dropped by George W. Bush in 2002. The agreement was remarkably similar to today’s Iran deal, and was intended to halt North Korea’s nuclear proliferation program to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Bush, like Trump with Iran, sought to take a harder stance on North Korea and dissolved the agreement when he took office. Pyongyang restarted their program and today possesses between ten and sixteen nuclear weapons, and is uninterested in entering into a new deal with the West. As many experts have pointed out, it is much easier to convince a country to end its nuclear proliferation program before weapons are actually developed than it is to get them to give up those weapons.
The agreement is set to expire in 2025, and withdrawing from it now would remove restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program immediately. Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed multiple times that Iran is complying with the restrictions of the deal. Therefore, Trump has no real reason to withdraw. He has stated that Iran violates the agreement “in spirit” by acting hostile towards US-allied nations such as Saudi Arabia, but monitoring Iran’s foreign relations was never an aspect of the deal to begin with.
Days after Trump’s speech, Iran held a military parade where they showed off a new Khorramshahr missile; the move is widely regarded as a show of defiance against the United States. President Rouhani announced at the parade that Iran would strengthen its missile capabilities and stated, “If, under any conditions, the United States chooses to break this agreement…it means that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country.” Rouhani’s words are reminiscent of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s thinly veiled threats against the US during his tenure in office. US-Iranian relations have not reached this level of hostility since. There is no need to strain relations with Iran without a tangible reason by dropping the deal—especially not now, with the moderate Rouhani in office. The US should be taking advantage of the agreement with Iran by using it as a segway to further develop diplomatic relations with the country, instead of souring relations for no discernable reason.
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has declared that if the United States wishes to pass new concessions, Iran will pass some of their own as well. Zarif stated that his nation would ask to repossess the nuclear fuel it sent to Russia as part of the deal, and asked, “are you prepared to return to us 10 tons of enriched uranium?” He went on to say that if the United States withdraws from the deal, “Iran has a number of options, which include walking away from the deal and going back with greater speed with its nuclear program, which will remain peaceful — but which will not address and accept the limitations that we voluntarily accepted over our nuclear program.”
Not only is there no substantial reason for the United States to drop out of the Iranian nuclear deal, but also withdrawing would prove counterproductive to Western interests. Tarnished credibility will make it difficult to coax North Korea and other rogue states to the negotiation table, and without restrictions on Iran they will almost certainly resume their nuclear program. Trump will announce on October 15 whether he intends to pull out of the deal or keep it. It is a decision that will affect not just the U.S. and Iran, but the entire global stage, and its repercussions will continue to be felt for years.