The Iran deal is terrible. Why didn't we get the uranium stockpile - it was sent to Russia. #SOTU— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2016
After frequently criticizing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump announced he was pulling the U.S. out of an agreement that was meant to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Trump previously criticized the Obama-era deal for not going far enough to stop Iran from building nukes and for not including language that stops Iran from supporting militants across the Middle East. Trump cited a recent Israeli claim that they had documents proving Iranians were deceiving the international nuclear inspectors. However, Netanyahu’s presentation only proved that Iran had tried to build nuclear weapons in the past, which everyone already knew and was a reason for why the deal existed.
The decision to exit the agreement was criticized by French and German leaders Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel as well as several foreign policy analysts. Neoconservatives have supported Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal as they have previously criticized the deal for being too lenient to Iran. Trump’s move away from one of Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements could make a lasting impact in the Middle East, Europe and even at home.
But not all of us have taken international relations – what does pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal actually mean?
What is the Iranian Nuclear Deal?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a 2015 international agreement between Iran and a group consisting of the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. The deal stated that Iran had to reduce its weapons grade uranium and plutonium stockpiles. Iran also had to agree to inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency anywhere the agency deemed fit to investigate. In return, the US, EU and UN lifted sanctions on the sale of oil that crippled the Iranian economy. The agreement also unfroze over 100 billion dollars in Iranian assets. The deal was controversial in both the U.S. and Iran. The two nations have a fraught relationship stemming from the 1979 Iranian revolution, where the Ayatollah Khomeini’s supporters overthrew a corrupt U.S. government. Hardliners in both countries opposed the deal on the grounds that the other country would act in bad faith. The deal does not prevent Iran from supporting militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, or from taking advantage of the Syrian Civil War to gain influence in the region. So far Iran has been found to be in compliance with the deal, but the Trump administration disputes this claim.
What does it mean to actually pull out of the Iran Deal?
Trump announced that he will be re-imposing sanctions that target international banks that do business with Iran’s oil sector. By reintroducing sanctions, the U.S. will be pressuring the world to stop doing business with Iran. Iran economy relies on oil sales and could suffer if the oil industry is pressured into not buying from Iran. The deal is not dead yet because the U.S. was not the sole country to sign onto it, but the U.S.’ exit could make the deal less appealing to Iran.
What is the impact of Trump’s decision in the Middle East?
The most immediate impact occurred when Iran and Israel had the biggest clash yet in a conflict that was mostly a proxy war last Wednesday. Iran launched 20 missiles into Northern Israel, but they were intercepted and Israel’s retaliation decimated Iran’s infrastructure in Syria. Israel can use the claims that Iran cheated in the nuclear deal as a cause to ramp up attacks in Syria to eliminate Iran’s presence in that country. Eager to weaken their main rival for control of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and its gulf state allies would likely support Israel in the ensuing conflict. Iran, which wanted infrastructure in Syria to put pressure its Israeli neighbors, could restart its nuclear program and encourage Hezbollah, which is headquartered in Lebanon, to go to war with Israel in the case that the nuclear deal ends. Iranian president Rouhani is a relative moderate who staked his reputation on the success of the deal, and hardliners are likely to use Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal against Rouhani and the moderates. Hardliners may push.
How is impacting the rest of the world?
Europe is going to try to keep the nuclear deal alive without the U.S, but the Trump administration has already threatened sanctions against European companies that would work with Iran. European business deals with Iran are at risk if the companies involved rely on American manufacturers. Iran will try to convince Europe that they must keep the nuclear deal and the European leaders have signaled that they still believe the deal is the best way to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Disagreement on Iran could further damage relations between Europe and the U.S. Experts do not believe this deal can last in the long run because Trump’s decision has created too much uncertainty and Iran will have less incentive to comply with the deal.