Dumping the deal

Against the advice and wishes of most people and countries, President Donald Trump pulls the U.S. out of the painstakingly negotiated Iran nuclear deal.

Published : May 23, 2018 12:30 IST

Donald Trump after he signed the Presidential Memorandum ceasing the U.S.’ participation in the Iran nuclear deal on May 8 at the White House.

Donald Trump after he signed the Presidential Memorandum ceasing the U.S.’ participation in the Iran nuclear deal on May 8 at the White House.

WITH typical bombast, President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that he was carrying out his threat to dump the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. “This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should never have been made,” he proclaimed from the lawns of the White House. The international community is now confronted with yet another major global crisis unleashed by American unilateralism. It is the first time that a President of the United States has wilfully overturned a signature achievement of his immediate predecessor. The U.S. will be reinstating all the sanctions it waived under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal is called. The Trump administration has also said that it will be imposing additional sanctions on Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was seething in his reaction, decrying the U.S.’ “empty signatures”. He said that there was very little time available to renegotiate with the other world powers to keep the nuclear deal afloat. “I have ordered the Foreign Ministry to negotiate with the European countries, China and Russia in the coming weeks. If at the end of this short period we conclude that we can fully benefit from the JCPOA with the cooperation of all countries, then the deal would remain,” his statement said.

Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State in the Barack Obama administration who played an important role in negotiating the nuclear deal, said that the U.S.’ withdrawal from the JCPOA made the U.S. the first of the seven parties to violate the agreement. He described the decision as “a serious case of foreign policy malpractice” that would have several adverse effects. The U.S., he said, would now find it difficult to negotiate a better deal with Iran in the future. In the short term, the negotiations with the North Koreans would “now become more complicated”, he said.

The JCPOA was signed between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany). As of now, all the other signatories are committed to it. In a joint statement, the German, French and British leaders urged Iran “to continue to meet its own obligations under the deal”. In a separate tweet, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the U.S.’ European allies “regret” Trump’s move, which has put the “international regime against nuclear proliferation at stake”. Obama said the decision was “misguided”. In a statement, the former President said that the JCPOA had significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear programme. “The JCPOA is working. That is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts and the current U.S. Secretary of Defence,” Obama’s statement said.

The top European Union (E.U.) diplomat, Federica Mogherini, called on the international community to preserve the JCPOA. “The E.U. will remain committed to the continued full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal,” she said. “We fully trust the work, competence and autonomy of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] that has published 10 reports certifying that Iran has fully complied with its commitments.” She said that the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions was an important component of the agreement. “The E.U. has repeatedly stressed that the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions has a positive impact not only on trade and economic relations with Iran but also mainly it has crucial benefits for the Iranian people,” she said.

Russia and China are strongly supportive of the Iran nuclear deal and have been critical of the Trump administration’s policies in the region. The Russian government said that “a very serious situation will emerge” if the U.S. walked out of the deal. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had strongly urged Trump not to renege on the nuclear deal. He warned that there was a real risk of war breaking out if the deal was broken. The only countries openly celebrating the decision were Israel and its new Arab Gulf allies, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump for his “courageous” and “historic” move.

Under the additional sanctions that the U.S. will impose on Iran, European companies will be given between three to six months to wind down their businesses in Iran. If they do not, they run the risk of running foul of the American banking system. French companies such as Total, Peugeot and Citroen invested in a big way in Iran after sanctions were lifted following the signing of the nuclear deal. The oil sanctions will make it difficult for European and Asian countries to source their energy supplies from Iran. India is a big importer of Iranian oil. Indian companies had started to do a lot of business once again in Iran. India is also building a port in Chabahar. The Trump administration is already threatening sanctions against India for buying Russian weaponry. The U.S. has imposed a separate set of sanctions on Russia. This time, however, the unilateral U.S. sanctions could boomerang, especially if European countries and big Asian countries such as China and India decide to call the U.S.’ bluff.

John Bolton being elevated to the post of National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo being made Secretary of State were the telltale signs that Trump would scuttle the JCPOA as both men are outspoken critics of it. Trump’s former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had counselled the President against scrapping the deal. This was one of the factors that cost them their jobs. Pompeo, who first won an election as a supporter of the ultraconservative “Tea Party” faction of the Republican Party, is relatively new to the political scene unlike the vitriolic Bolton, who has been an active right-wing polemicist since the time of Ronald Reagan.

Immediately after being sworn in, Pompeo headed for Saudi Arabia and Israel, calling for concerted international action against Iran. As a first-time Congressman, Pompeo had told the media that it would take only 2,000 Air Force sorties to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme. Bolton has held senior posts in the George W. Bush administration and played a crucial role in formulating its Iran policy. He was among the loudest voices in the Bush administration advocating war against Iran. As soon as Trump got elected, Bolton started working overtime to convince the novice politician about the immediate necessity of dumping the JCPOA. Bolton’s conduit to Trump was Sheldon Adelson, an American casino magnate and close buddy of Netanyahu. Adelson, a champion of Zionist and other Far Right causes, was also one of the Trump campaign’s big financial backers.

When Bolton was Assistant Secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s first term in office, he closely liaised with Israel to hatch a plan for war with Iran without the apparent knowledge of his immediate boss at the time, Secretary of State Colin Powell. According to Gareth Porter, a well-informed journalist and veteran Iran watcher, Bolton had assured the Israeli government that after the U.S. carried out regime change in Iraq it would take care of Syria and Iran. Israel had identified these three countries as the only major threats it faced in the region. Bolton had written in his memoir published in 2007 that the U.S.-Israeli strategy was to take the Iran nuclear file out of the IAEA and move it to the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. scuttled the efforts of IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to work out a compromise with Iran.

In 2004, Bolton claimed that Iran had embarked on a clandestine nuclear programme and demanded that international inspectors be sent to the country. He expected the Iranians to stonewall and prevent the entry of the IAEA inspectors. But Iran allowed the inspectors to visit Parchin, the alleged site of its nuclear experiments, and other sites. The inspectors found no evidence of any nuclear-related activity. In 2005, the U.S. produced another piece of fabricated evidence that it claimed exposed Iran’s “covert” nuclear programme. The alleged evidence was fabricated by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Bolton writes in his memoir that the Israelis had convinced him by then that Iran “had reached the point of no return” and the use of military force was the only option left to the U.S. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times in 2015, he advocated the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities. “The United States can do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what is necessary,” he wrote. Israel has been calling on the U.S. to bomb Iran for a long time now.


Bolton has also been a long-time backer of the Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), whose name was removed from the U.S. terrorist list only in 2012. The MEK switched sides after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Until then, it had been a staunch ally of Iraq under Saddam Hussein. It even fought alongside the Iraqi army in the eight-year war against Iran and was responsible for many terrorist attacks against Iranian and American targets. But all this did not stop Bolton from becoming a great admirer of the MEK. In fact, he has been the keynote speaker at MEK rallies in Paris on eight occasions. The MEK is known to pay its guest speakers handsomely. Bolton and his ilk are even talking about the MEK as an alternative to the current Iranian government. It is common knowledge that ordinary Iranians loathe the MEK for siding first with Saddam Hussein and then with the U.S.

Opponents of the nuclear deal even went to the extent of hiring a notorious Israeli private investigative agency, Black Cube, to dig up dirt on the U.S. officials involved in negotiating it. The firm was founded by former Israeli intelligence analysts who had served in the Israel Defence Forces. The Guardian said that people close to Trump had hired the agency. Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood producer, used the same agency to dig up dirt on his female accusers. Among the officials the Black Cube investigators were targeting were Benjamin J. Rhodes, a senior security adviser to Obama, and Colin Kahl, another of Obama’s close advisers. In recent days, Trump has been particularly angry with John Kerry, Obama’s Secretary of State, for his efforts to salvage the nuclear deal. Kerry recently met with foreign leaders involved in negotiating the nuclear deal, including Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Kerry has been trying to convince the Iranians that the dark clouds hovering over international diplomacy will soon blow over and the nuclear deal can eventually be rescued.

The painstakingly negotiated deal involved a lot of compromises, mostly on Iran’s part. The Rouhani government was voted into power by an electorate that had seen living standards plummet as a result of the draconian sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the West. There was a lot of criticism within Iran after the deal was signed. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reluctantly gave his assent, warning that the West could not be trusted to keep to its commitments. In the Iranian presidential election last year, the “nuclear deal” was a contentious issue, with many among the so-called “hardliners” describing the deal as a blunder. Trita Parsi, an expert on Iran, is of the view that Iran signed the nuclear deal without covering all its bases. He said that North Korea was going to the negotiating table after successfully testing nuclear capable missiles that could hit the U.S. mainland, while Iran had negotiated the nuclear deal after only having enriched uranium up to 20 per cent. Iran had not developed any nuclear weapons or intercontinental missiles capable of carrying them.

Although the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted, many of the tough sanctions that the U.S. had imposed on Iran since the 1979 revolution remained intact. There were widespread restrictions on trade, and there was a ban on Iran using the American banking system to transact international business. Many foreign companies stayed away from Iran fearing that they would run foul of American laws. No big international bank has set up shop in Iran because of the remaining sanctions. This has deprived Iran of much-needed cash and loans.

Soon after it assumed office, the Trump administration demanded that Iran renegotiate the JCPOA. On top of that, it demanded that Iran scale down its missile programme and allow unrestricted inspection of its nuclear facilities by international inspectors. These demands came despite the IAEA stating that Iran was fully compliant with the nuclear deal. A recent U.S. State Department report also stated the same. Secretary of Defence James Mattis told a U.S. congressional committee that keeping the nuclear deal intact was in the national interests of the country. The Pentagon has repeatedly stated in its reports that Iran’s military posture is defensive in nature.

Ayatollah Khamenei has warned the Iranian people that they should not take it for granted that the Western countries that are signatories to the JCPOA will keep on siding with Iran. Macron is already talking about the possibility of “a new treaty” with Iran. The U.K. government promptly released a statement saying that Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Macron were committed to “working closely” with the U.S. on “those issues that a new deal might cover”.

Iran has warned that if the deal collapses completely it will immediately restart its uranium enriching cycle. In a speech in the first week of May, Rouhani reiterated that there was no question of Iran curtailing its missile programme. “We will build as many missiles and weapons as needed,” he said. “We are honouring our commitments, but we are telling the whole world we will not negotiate with anyone about our weapons and our defence.” He emphasised that Iran would continue its fight against terrorism. “We want to talk to the world so that our region is safe, but we will not allow you to create another Daesh [Islamic State].” Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to the Supreme Leader, took a tougher stance. At the end of April, he warned that Iran would quit the nuclear deal if the U.S. withdrew from it.

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