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Trump’s Iran Policy Only Hurts the US
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By Shannon Tawoos

In his speech on 13 October, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his new Iran policy – a policy which takes a more confrontational stance toward the Islamic republic. Trump had many things to say about the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling it a “rouge regime”, the “Iranian dictatorship”, a “radical regime”, and “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism”. In his speech, he formally announced that he would be de-certifying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The fate of the JCPOA now rests on the shoulders of Congress, who has 60 days to decide whether or not they will impose new sanctions on Iran. He did not just hand Congress the decision of sanctions, but called on the members of Congress to address the flaws in the deal.

The JCPOA is working. In his speech, Trump stated that Iran was in violation of the “spirit” of the deal, claimed that Iran had “committed multiple violations”, and cited the sunset clauses and insufficient enforcement as weaknesses in the deal. He also claimed that the IAEA has not been given access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, which the IAEA Director, General Yukiya Amano, rebuked in a statement released on the same day, stating that “at present, Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime” and “so far, the IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit”. Since the signing of the deal in 2015, the IAEA has released eight reports stating that Iran is in technical compliance to the Iran deal.

Several of Trump’s advisors and cabinet members came out in support of the deal. James Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and General Joseph Dunford, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came out in support of the continuation of the JCPOA in the interest of American national security.

Additionally, the European allies of the US support the survival of the deal. On 25 September 2017, during a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council, the ambassadors of the EU, the UK, France, and Germany unanimously declared their support for the Iran deal. David O’Sullivan, the ambassador of the EU to the US, called the JCPOA a “a public good for the international community” which makes the entire world safer”. At the same time, the ambassadors agreed that there are various issues with Iran including their proxies in the Middle East and their ballistic missile programs. While these issues do exist, the JCPOA was negotiated in seclusion and the death of the deal signals to Iran (and the world) that the US does not stick to its deals. President Trump has already pulled out of several international agreements and organizations, most notably the Paris Agreement and UNESCO. Trump’s decertification has therefore caused further strain between the US and its European allies.

In decertifying the deal, Trump has proven that the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, is correct: The US is not to be trusted. When Ayatollah Khamenei endorsed the deal in 2015, he did so with a warning that the US would not uphold the deal as the US is untrustworthy. For the moderates and reformists in Iran who pushed for the deal, the results will weaken their position in the Islamic Republic. This situation could possibly be compared to that of President Mohammad Khatami, who attempted to improve relations with the United States and was met with President Bush’s Axis of Evil speech. Currently, because of his support for the Green Movement, Khatami is under strict surveillance and cannot be pictured or quoted in Iranian media.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Theresa May, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and President Emmanuel Macron stated that all three nations remain committed to the JCPOA, with a reminder that the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the deal in Resolution 2231. Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, stated in an interview that Iran would remain in the deal with Germany, Russia, France, the UK, and China. Even with Europe’s continued support, the JCPOA might effectively be killed if the US reimposes sanctions on Iran. Another path is possibly amending the agreement, which several European, American, and Iranian officials have stated is impossible. In response to Trump’s 13 October 2017 speech, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that Iran will not renegotiate the deal, adding that all other parties of the JCPOA remain committed it its success.

In the same speech, Trump also formally announced that the US will sanction the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) due to its support of terrorism. This adds another element of confrontation to Trump’s Iran policy. The IRGC, loyal to the Supreme Leader, is the most powerful Iranian military organization and has power politically and economically. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institute observed that the US has sanctioned some parts of the IRGC since 2007, including the Quds Force, and that has only made the military organization stronger both at home and abroad. While Trump did not formally designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, as many thought he might, sanctions against the force will have further devastating effects to US-Iranian relations.

The US and Iran have trouble trusting each other; for the last 40 years the two nations have both done horrible things to each other including the hostage crisis immediately following the Islamic Revolution; Iranian support for Hezbollah; US support of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War; and, the 1988 shooting down of an Iran Air passenger flight over the Persian Gulf in which 290 people were killed. The JCPOA was a chance for the two nations to begin a dialogue and to possibly continue solving the various issues between them. Trump has in effect undone 12 years of diplomacy.

In this speech, President Trump claimed that he was committed to stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; however, by his decertification, designation of the IRGC as a terror group, and confrontational rhetoric, Trump is strangling the deal which effectively kept Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He has also taken the US a step closer to military conflict with the Islamic Republic.

Shannon Tawoos is a MLitt candidate at the University of Saint Andrews in the United Kingdom where she studies Iranian Studies and expects to graduate in December 2017. She holds a BA in International Studies from American University. Her areas of interest include US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign policy, and ethnic/religious minorities in the Middle East. Her current research is focused on Armenian-Iranian identity during the first decade of the Islamic Republic.


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