US President Donald Trump finally announced what was long expected since his arrival at the White House: that he will not certify that Iran is complying with the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed by the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Iran.
In addition to this, Trump has stated that he will not certify that the suspension of sanctions undertaken by the US as part of the agreement is justified and in the vital national interest of the US.
This speech on Iran came as the latest chapter in Trump's struggle to reconcile his overriding impulse to denigrate and destroy any significant achievements of Obama’s administration, but also as a gesture to undermine the moral legitimacy of the United States among its allies and the wider international community.
“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more chaos, the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump declared. He added: “Given the regime’s murderous past and present, we should not take lightly its sinister vision for the future…The regime’s two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,” Trump stated in his strongly worded speech.
Following Trump's remarks, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, reacted by saying that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord.
“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said. “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”
The Iranian government and media, meanwhile, were quick to react to Trump's threat to "decertify" an international deal on Iran's nuclear programme. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at Trump, saying, “America is now, more than ever, isolated,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling the deal “a valid international instrument and an outstanding achievement in contemporary diplomacy.”
AN UNTENABLE PROPOSITION
So, what is next? First, Congress has 60 days to reintroduce some or all of the suspended sanctions, but is unlikely to do so. It might, however, introduce new sanctions tied to Iran's use of ballistic missiles.
Second, Europeans nations, China, and Russia are highly unlikely to join the US in introducing new sanctions against Iran. This is not only because of their business interests, but also because Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA.
Third, for Donald Trump to unilaterally kill the nuclear deal with Iran he has to pass the Cotton-Corker bill, which would cause a major break with US' allies who would also be vital to any nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
Last but not least, by issuing an unprecedented designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, the Trump administration has already raised the risk factor in the Middle East, bringing the Iran-US relations to a point of no return.
As such, the implications of Donald Trump’s unilateral decision will go beyond just the nuclear deal. On the one hand, Trump’s actions, and any new sanctions from Congress, will reinforce the image that Iran often portrays of the U.S. as being the bad boy on the world stage. On the other hand, it will also push Iran into treating future American foreign policy moves in the Middle East with more suspicion.
TRUMP'S INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC ISOLATION
Everybody knows that the nuclear deal between Iran, US, China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany has been a very long and technically complicated document. At the end of the day, the great effort by all the participants in the deal resulted in Iran agreeing to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the suspension of sanctions imposed on Iran by the 5+1. This agreement appears to have been working as intended, and Iran has been holding up its end of the deal.
Moreover, the majority of Trump’s national security cabinet do not share his alarming views that Iran’s nuclear agreement poses a threat to the US national security. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all appear to oppose Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran deal. Let us not forget that when Mattis was asked, during an 3 October Senate hearing, whether he thinks staying in the deal is in US national security interests, he answered in the affirmative.
In any case, though people around the world, and especially those in Iran and the Middle East, are getting used to President Trump’s unexpected U-turns, we may expect that, at least in the short term, Iran may continue to adhere to the agreement. This, even though Trump's line of thought and action is fully opposed by hardliners in Iran who argue for suspending the deal.
One way or another, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies will continue to play an important role in the geopolitics of the Middle East, this is the real challenge of Iran which Donald Trump is missing.