Tread softly, President Trump
Donald Trumpʹs de-certification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is dangerously reckless. With European heads of state unable to stay the U.S. presidentʹs hand, the latter appears to have followed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahuʹs cue. Yet neither Trump nor Netanyahu appear to have grasped the dire regional and international implications of unilaterally de-certifying this historic deal.
In January, Trump gave Britain, France, and Germany an unrealistic deadline – 12 May – to fix what he considered the dealʹs defects, including the sunset clauses under which some of the terms expire, Iranʹs ballistic missile programme – which was not part of the deal – and the monitoring of suspected Iranian nuclear sites. Regardless of the short period of notice, this was always going to be ʹmission impossibleʹ without the support of Russia and China.
Netanyahuʹs public stunt, displaying thousands of documents to provide further proof that Iran has been conducting a secret nuclear weapons programme, is not new. His claim that the Iran deal was based on previously undisclosed information does not justify the de-certification of the deal, especially because Iran has been fully adhering to all the provisions of the deal.
The fact that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme was the main reason behind President Obamaʹs effort to strike the deal. As EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in Brussels, "the deal was put in place exactly because there was no trust between the parties." Secretary of Defence Mattis echoed precisely the same sentiment, adding that "the verification [procedure]… is actually pretty robust as far as our intrusive ability to get in."
Re-negotiation not an option
The deal is certainly far from perfect, but withdrawing from it and starting from scratch may be impossible, especially in light of Iranʹs vehement refusal to modify the deal, as expressed by Foreign Minister Zarif: "We will neither outsource our security, nor will we re-negotiate or add onto a deal we have already implemented in good faith."
The de-certification of the deal will force Iran to choose one of two options. The first is to exploit the rift between the U.S. and the other signatories. In this case, Tehran could continue to adhere to the provisions of the deal, even though Iran will still suffer from unilateral (but not as severe) American sanctions. Under U.S. law, Trump must wait at least 180 days before imposing their most severe consequences, which includes targeting the banks of countries that fail to appreciably cut their oil purchases from Iran.
The second option for Iran is to withdraw from the deal altogether, restart its nuclear weapons programme and potentially even withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), thereby preventing the monitoring of its nuclear programme by the IAEA. This would pose a serious threat to Israel and other American allies in the region.