It was expected that Donald Trump will undone Iran Deal forged under Obama administration. Iran Deal was, in Trumpian words, another in a series of worst deal ever signed by United States. Just like Paris (Climate) Agreement or NAFTA. Pick your fav. Nuclear deal with Iran was far from perfect, but it worked in the designed way – preventing Iran from enriching uranium to bomb-grade degree. Now that deal is in tatters and there is also no plan on what should come next?
Why the deal had to go?
When President Trump dismissed his Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, replacing so-called grown ups (Rex Tillerson and H. R. McMaster) with more right wing personalities – Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, one could be sure that Iran Deal is on its last legs. Abovementioned officials and President Trump were in the same boat here – deal has to be abandoned. Why, apart from being the worst deal ever? Not that the deal didn’t work in stopping Iran from working on development of nuclear weapons. Multiple layers of checks shown that Iran was not in breach of its obligations under the agreement. The reasoning behind Trump’s decision was that Iran was supporting terror, meddling in Syria, Yemen and worked on long-range rockets. Unfortunately, not a single element of that list was covered by JCPOA. To put it bluntly, President Trump abandoned landmark deal on curbing development of nuclear weapons because he didn’t like Iran was doing something that was not a part of that deal. Surely one can admit that Iran Deal could have been broader and include ban on missiles, but there was absolutely no chance to cover all issues that US and other 5 signatories of the deal had with Iran.
On the eve of a possible landmark meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, United States sent an alarming signal to Pyongyang – guys, don’t trust us. We are breaking deals we sign, at will. Pulling out of Iran Deal creates a big mess in two other areas too. Firstly, it alienates European powers (Germany, France and United Kingdom) that already had their issues with Trump and his administration. Second, it adds up to the mess Middle East already is.
Europeans tried their best to save the deal with Iran as, in their eyes, it was working. For them it was always clear that agreement is about nuclear weapons, period. They welcomed business opportunities that were brought by opening of Iranian market. Multiple deals have been announced or signed, worth billions of euros. All those deals are now endangered by Trump’s pull out. If United States bring sanctions back, European companies will be targeted by US Treasury for doing business with Iran. European companies will have to choose – do business with Iran and risk losing access to US market and its financial institutions, or comply with sanctions and leave Iran altogether. Everyone knows what will they do. This will be a second slap for European business from Trump administration, with first being the rise of trade tariffs on certain goods.
Middle East is usually on the verge of explosion, so almost nobody cares if Iran Deal stands or not. Truth being said, financial relief from removal of US sanctions helped Iran to bankroll war in Syria and other ventures, for which Trump blames Tehran. It was a flaw in the deal that could not have been averted – it’s not 19th century when countries divided spheres of influence and made pledges in regard to their foreign policy. It is also no surprise that Iran is doing anything it can to save Assad’s regime in Syria, which is allied to Iran for decades. Even without a deal that was signed in 2015, Iran would intervene in Syria, sending money, weapons and troops to help Assad.
Pulling out of Iran Deal may end in US finding itself isolated, if other signatories manage to keep the deal alive. If, and that is a big if, European powers let their companies to ignore US sanctions, full-blown trade war between Europe and US may erupt. Russia and China are more than happy to see the Transatlantic Alliance crumble and Western leaders to fall apart.
Tense months ahead
So what, is Iran going to resume working on nuclear warheads? That would be risky as Trump’s team (led by John Bolton, hawkish official that had a leading role in George W. Bush administration) may go as far as to order missile strikes on Iranian installations. For now Iranians are trying to feel other parties to JCPOA, while contemplating their response. They have to do something as after all those decades of hostility to US, no response would mean losing face. What could it be? Time will tell. But Trump and his top advisors may have wanted it just like that – Iran not able or willing to resume work on nukes and sanctions coming back in few months. If they wanted to squeeze the mullahs to negotiate political agreement on issues raised by President Trump in his speech last week, that would be a diplomatic masterpiece. However, it looks much more like a dangerous blunder, for which neither the US, nor the Europeans, were prepared.