Trump prepares to impose second set of sanctions on Iran over nuclear agreement it has complied with
As in the past, the sanctions will mandate that the world stop dealing with Iran in these sectors and threaten penalties against any nation that doesn’t go along, unless they get exemptions from Washington. The White House announced Friday it would grant these exemptions temporarily to eight unnamed nations that are said to include Turkey, China, India, and Japan.
But the notion that the sanctions will make the world a safer place is delusional. The generally moderate President Hassan Rouhani has taken to sounding like a hardliner. The sanctions have also irked America’s European allies, who believe continuing the nuclear agreement serves their interests as well as the rest of the world’s. Those nations have been discussing among themselves mechanisms for circumventing the sanctions, proof, as if more were needed, of how counterproductive this move by the White House is.
The multilateral pact laboriously hammered out three years ago with Iran by the Obama administration and five other nations curtails the Islamic republic’s nuclear development program with long-term, verifiable constraints that would make it far more difficult for Iranian leaders to divert part of its civilian program to build nuclear weapons if they were to decide to do so. By all accounts it is not a perfect agreement, but it’s far better than a world without it, and one of the Obama administration’s proudest achievements.
Specifically, the deal lifted international economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran’s pledge to vastly reduce its stockpile of fissile material; cut by two-thirds the number of centrifuges used to concentrate uranium to make nuclear fuel; permanently disable a plutonium-making reactor; and open up the nation’s nuclear development program to unprecedented levels of international inspection. All of which it has done.
That’s not wishful thinking. The inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Association charged with ensuring everyone sticks to the deal have found Iran to be fully compliant in every one of a dozen reports it has released since the signing.
In other words, it’s not Tehran that is violating the agreement; it’s Washington. That almost certainly will have long-lasting negative reverberations among America’s oldest allies, not to mention anybody else, say, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, who will think twice about whether the United States can be counted on when it signs an agreement. Diplomatic damage like this can take a long time to repair.
But ever since his campaign for the presidency began, Trump has been determined to plow the agreement under, calling it “horrible,” “awful,” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” He boasts that he could have negotiated something better. Following the pattern established since he began squatting in the Oval Office, Trump’s objections to the deal seem to have as much to do with the fact that President Barack Obama got credit for this diplomatic achievement as it does with international relations. Not only does Trump want a standing ovation for everything he says and does, but he cannot stomach it when even a smidgen of praise for the last real U.S. president in office reaches his ears.
But personalty disorders aside, this move that Trump seems to think demonstrates he’s a tough guy weakens U.S. political clout and could lead to the war about which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have wet dreams.
The agreement—formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—includes mention of reimposing sanctions if Iran violates it. In other words, if Iran were to cheat, sanctions could be put back in place by the other signatories, a “sanctions snapback,” though that term is not explicitly used in the agreement. But Iran has not cheated, according to the inspectors.
That has made no never mind to Trump.
In the summer of 2017, he told staffers he wanted them to find an excuse for pulling out of the agreement. In January this year, when he recertified that Iran was meeting its obligations, something Congress requires him to do every 90 days, he said this would be the final time unless Iran agreed to stricter provisions. This May, though the IAEA had again reported that Iran was in compliance, and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed, Trump announced the U.S. would reimpose sanctions in two phases. At midnight Sunday, the second round goes into effect.
It’s clear from Pompeo’s October 15 manifesto in Foreign Affairs that the end goal is regime change in Iran. As if that worked out so well when the CIA helped engineer the 1953 coup against the democratically chosen leader of Iran to install the puppet shah, who himself was deposed a quarter-century later by the anti-American ayatollahs, who have been even more repressive than he. But Trump and his minions ignore this history. The reimposed economic sanctions, military threats, a harder line on Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, and challenges over Iranian human rights abuses are seen as a means to put new leaders in charge. More delusion.
It’s not that dissidents in Iran don’t want change. They’ve made it clear they do, and they’ve been suppressed, often brutally, for their public opposition. Corruption, economic inefficiency and mismanagement that isn’t a byproduct of sanctions, deep unemployment, especially among the youth, human rights abuses, and mistreatment of and restrictions on women are all issues making many unhappy with their leaders. But regime change anywhere needs to come from within, and U.S. pressure of the sort the Trump regime is exerting could, instead of democratizing Iran, enable worse leaders to take over—say, the hard-nosed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
If Trump had been serious about stiffening the nuclear agreement, curbing further development of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and forcing the leadership to back off its aggressive moves to spread its political clout in the Middle East, he would have sought another round of diplomatic negotiations. Not that these would be easy. The nuclear agreement took 20 months to go from initial contacts to a full-blown deal.
But that’s just not how the squatter in the Oval Office rolls on Middle Eastern matters. After all, his pals the Saudis—who run a government in some ways more repressive than Iran’s—and the Netanyahu government of Israel are both cheerleading an ultra-hawkish stance on Iran. With the reimposition of a second round of sanctions just a weekend away, and with Pompeo and Bolton chest-thumping in speeches and published articles while claiming not to want war, Trump is dead set on giving Iran’s hardliners the justification they need to pull out of the agreement and return to the level of nuclear development they were engaged in when it was signed.
Unless and until some sanity is regained in this arena, at the very least, thanks to Trump’s disastrous move, we can expect Iran to put itself in a position to quickly build nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.