Ahead of a historic summit with his North Korean counterpart on denuclearisation, American President, Donald Trump, stirred up the hornet’s nest recently when he unilaterally pulled his country out of a three-year-old multilateral agreement to roll back Iran’s nuclear programme. By so doing, he has not only risked the outbreak of a potentially catastrophic war in that fractious and war-scarred Middle East, but has also driven a wedge between the United States and its usually dependable European allies.
Although the 2015 deal had never been held up as a model of perfection, experts still believe that it is the best that could be cobbled together for the time being, insofar as it is achieving its objective – until it is replaced by something better. Unfortunately, Trump had been critical of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – as the deal is technically known – right from its inception. As a presidential candidate, Trump never failed to let the world know his opinion about the deal, which he described as “the worst deal ever.” Yet, he never came up with a better alternative.
Under JCPOA, the Iranians, who had always insisted that their nuclear programme was peaceful, had agreed a 15-year moratorium on the stockpile of enriched uranium, used for making reactor fuel and nuclear weapons. Along with that came an agreement to limit the number of centrifuges installed to enrich uranium for a 10-year period. Besides, the country, once described alongside North Korea and Iraq as the “Axis of Evil” by a former US President, George Bush, also agreed to modify a heavy water facility to prevent the production of plutonium suitable for a nuclear bomb.
Iran, which came under heavy sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the US and the European Union to ensure that it abandoned its nuclear ambitions, was to open up for verification of its compliance with the details of the deal. In return, the sanctions which had devastated the country’s economy, greatly affecting its oil industry, were to be lifted. Its frozen assets, estimated at over $100 billion, in the US and other parts of the world were to also be unfrozen.
In fairness to Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency had consistently affirmed the country’s compliance with all the requirements, following its commitment to “extraordinary and robust monitoring, verification and inspection.” But to justify his decision to ditch the deal, Trump came up with the unverifiable claim that Iran was not complying.
Among his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal is the fact that it did not cover a wide range of issues, including Iran’s perceived destabilising role in the Middle East, where it is at daggers drawn with Israel and Saudi Arabia. The country is also deeply involved in a proxy war currently raging in Syria. Trump is simply not happy that the deal, which he sees as “defective to the core,” did not encompass other issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile activities. For this reason, he pulled out and resumed the imposition of sanctions.
This has, however, not sat well with other signatories to the deal, namely the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany. While Russia described it as deeply disappointing, Barack Obama, under whose presidency the deal was struck, said it was misguided, just as a statement by more than 100 European diplomats and politicians described it as America shooting itself in the foot. Very important is the decision by the Europeans to forge ahead without the US. “We believe that Europe, Russia and China would continue the deal with Iran, leaving the US isolated and weakened in handling challenges like North Korea,” the joint statement read in part.
Considering Trump’s disposition towards the legacies of his predecessor, Obama, only the most incurable optimist would be taken aback by his decision to end the Iran nuke deal. He has already made huge but futile efforts to discard the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, after announcing to the UN about America’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Many agree that his decision to pull out of the Iran deal had more to do with the fact that it was negotiated under Obama than his claim of being defective and Iran’s alleged non-compliance with the requirements.
However, just as in the case of the climate change, where the rest of the world decided to forge ahead without the US, Iran and the remaining signatories have indicated their readiness to brave the odds and go ahead with JCPOA. This is the right step to take, if it will restrain Teheran from getting hold of the bomb, especially as there is no immediate alternative to the current deal. That is the only way to reassure the Iranians, currently distraught with the Americans and their increased notoriety for flouting multilateral agreements.
The impact of the reintroduction of sanctions is not going to be limited to Iran alone; it will also hurt the European countries who have already resumed lucrative business with the oil-rich country. For instance, a deal by aircraft manufacturing company to sell 100 planes to Iran is already in danger if urgent efforts are not made by the other signatories to keep the deal alive.
Obama aptly captured the mood in his reaction when he said, “Walking away from JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies.” That point was reinforced by his former deputy, Joe Biden, who said Trump’s action would “isolate the United States from nearly every world power.” The first test of the failure of multilateralism comes up on June 12 when Trump meets Kim Jong-Un of North Korea in the first ever meeting of that nature in Singapore. Whether it comes out a success or not, it is doubtful if America will as easily get other world powers behind it on any global issue as used to be the case before.