The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has all the makings of a historic deal. It prevented Iran from advancing their program to build a nuclear weapon, while it gave strong verification measures to provide the United States with time to respond if Iran violates the terms of the deal, at least until President Trump took office. The absurd U.S. withdrawal from the deal has not only undermined the negotiations, but it also raised doubts about U.S. credibility and its ability to commit to international agreements as the liberal world leader it once was.
Meanwhile, some believe that the JCPOA is a historic mistake. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey was one of the four Democrats to oppose the deal. Menendez and others believed that a stronger deal was possible. Nevertheless, even if this is true and the JCPOA is a weak deal, the fact is that a deal, even a weak one, is better than no deal. A new deal with Iran, or at the very least, reentering the JCPOA, will be much more difficult and will require even more efforts from the U.S., UN, the P5+1, and the EU.
While the JCPOA was not flawless, withdrawing from it was the best way to shatter a decade long drawn-out diplomatic dialogue. Today, roles have changed, and it is now Iran that demands for the lifting of sanctions and compensation for damages before it sits at table with the U.S. again.
Ramifications of The U.S. Withdrawal
President-elect Joe Biden will likely attempt to reenter the nuclear deal, but Iran will not easily give back the seat Trump left. Meanwhile, Tehran will certainly seek retaliation after the “maximum pressure” punitive strategy that has been imposed on its economy, despite having agreed to the JCPOA with the Obama administration and despite abiding by it. “Iran is implementing its nuclear commitments” said Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
However, recently, Iran has breached the agreement in response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the reimposition of harsher sanctions. Tehran has already resumed its nuclear program by feeding uranium into its newest centrifuges. These centrifuges can produce the enriched needed for nuclear weapons more quickly, therefore decreasing the time needed to build a nuclear weapon. Such malign activities resumed after the decision to withdraw which further proves the effectiveness of the deal in hindering the Iranian nuclear program.
The withdrawal isolates the United States and puts it in a position to be deemed the breacher of the deal. It erodes the rules-based international order as it questions the power and diplomatic credibility of America in an age where global order is already quite shaky. It also questions the U.S.’s commitment to international agreements, particularly after its exit from another notable international agreement, the Paris Accords, which further validates this argument.
Now We Wait and Pray
On April 15th, 2019, President Trump deemed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. This came as part of the “maximum pressure” strategy. A few months later, the U.S. assassinated an IRGC Major General, Qassem Soleimani. The IRGC firmly believes the U.S. is seeking a regime change in Iran, therefore, negotiations are viewed as pointless because they only seem to serve American interests. The situation with the JCPOA has only exacerbated this notion and now there are no incentives for Tehran to renegotiate a new deal.
As Iran elections are getting closer, the strongest candidate to replace President Hassan Rouhani in June will likely be a military man from the IRGC. It is evident that it won’t be a positive outcome, not for the U.S. and its allies nor for the region.
As the Biden Administration prepares to take office in six weeks, President Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are determined to not leave a single glimmer of hope for the Iran Deal. By assassinating Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top nuclear scientist, tensions have drastically escalated as Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, claims there were “serious indications of Israeli role”. If the killing of Fakhrizadeh will have an impact, and it will, it certainly won’t be on Iran’s nuclear weapon program, but rather on future negotiations with Iran which will put President-elect Biden in a tough position with both Iran and the international community on day one of his presidency.
Nacer Ben Driouich is a senior at the Schar School of Policy and government at George Mason University, majoring in International Relations with a focus on Near Eastern policy.
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