President Trump is Right: Reform the Iran Deal or Leave It


President Trump declared the other week ‘The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States.’

He’s absolutely right. The nuclear deal with Iran (properly called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) was weak to begin with and is now demonstrably, dangerously, broken. This deal enriches Iran’s terrorist rulers and jihadist proxies while giving the regime a patient pathway to nuclear weapons.

The main problem: we can’t even know if Iran is sticking to the deal. Negotiated in 2015 by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, the EU and Iran, the deal agreed the lifting of crippling sanctions on Iran in exchange for pausing its development of nuclear weapons. The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was said to have the right to ‘anytime, anywhere’ inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites to see if Iran was following the rules. In practice, inspectors only have 24/7 access to declared sites. For any suspected but undeclared sites, the regime can deny access to inspectors for more than three weeks. No Iranian military sites have been inspected since the deal was implemented in January 2016. The head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, stated in an interview with Reuters this week that he can no longer verify Iranian compliance.

Even if the IAEA, or the USA, or Britain, were to prove that Iran were in violation, another issue would present itself. The deal is designed to be ‘too big to fail’ (we all know how well that worked out for the banks). There’s only one way of punishing Iranian violation: full re-imposition of sanctions. The dictatorship in Tehran would use a renewed sanctions regime as an excuse to trash their nuclear commitments and recommence efforts toward nuclear weapons. Thus, Iran was permitted by the Obama administration to regularly violate the deal, to avoid trashing the entire arrangement.

Ballistic missiles present another serious concern. Ballistic missile development is essential to any nuclear weapons defence program, as Kim-Jong Un has shown. The JCPOA contains no limits on Iran’s ballistic missile production. When the US threatened sanctions to punish Iran for testing missiles, the regime threatened to pull out of the deal altogether.

Iran’s production of ballistic missiles is served by the JCPOA in another key sense: the lifting of sanctions allows the regime access to funds, technology and expertise necessary to improve its missile program. Fundamentally, it allows the regime to broaden its industrial base. Even car factories could be re-purposed to produce ballistic missiles or uranium centrifuges.

This issue (a cash-flush terrorist regime) is another part of the fallout of the nuclear deal. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is a militia/regime agency whose responsibilities include running Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missile development, and managing military involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The IRGC is thus far more influential in Iranian regional policy than the government of President Rouhani or the rubber-stamp Iranian parliament. The Corps is in this sense the state within the terrorist state.

Not co-incidentally, the IRGC controls about a third of the Iranian economy, and receives about one-sixth of the country’s GDP. Its control over the Iranian economy is also highly strategic. It has subsidiaries at all levels of the oil supply chain, control over many ports, telecommunications infrastructure, manufacturing, and the mining of raw materials like zinc (used for anti-radar coating of ballistic missiles). Permitted access to international arms markets, the Iranians can now buy heavy weaponry, such as the Russian anti-aircraft battery, the S300. The lifting of sanctions as part of the nuclear deal was naturally a strategic boon for the Corps.

Another key problem: the restrictions have an expiration date. From 2025 onwards, limits on uranium, advanced centrifuges, and other nuclear restrictions begin to evaporate. A threshold nuclear power with a massive uranium enrichment program, equipped with long-range ballistic missiles, advanced heavy weaponry, and a more powerful economy. Under the JCPOA, all the regime has to do is wait.

President Trump has now stated to Congress that Iran is violating the deal, and that the deal’s not in US national security interests. Congress now has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran, which Iran would use as an excuse to go back to full-speed development of its nuclear program. As an opening move to begin reform of the deal, this makes a great start.

Not only does this pressure the UN and the US’s European allies to work with Trump to strengthen the deal, this move makes clear that the JCPOA cannot and must not be allowed to continue.


French and History student, in my final year at Southampton. Mainly international issues, but honestly I've opinions on everything. Tweeting at @johndparnell

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