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And now the United States is in violation of the deal, not Iran.
Trump’s decision despite the advice of European allies will create uncertainty, provoke Iran, force worldwide economic and diplomatic boomerangs and undercut the security of the Middle East. It encourages Iranian hard-liners. It brings war closer.
Iranians vow to restart nuclear weapons development. A range of interests, from Israelis to a ready-to-war group in the White House, equally vow that there will never be nukes in Iran. At the minimum, Iran will turn to China, Russia and others to create a broader anti-U.S. bloc.
Watching all of this is North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un, who actually has nuclear weapons.
The withdrawal announcement was a totally presidential moment. While it was about the power and position of the U.S. in the world, it also was about Trump, whose action reflected domestic politics as much as the world order, gave a Trump backhand to a prime achievement of the Obama era and underscored America First and Only isolationism.
In his announcement, Trump remained belligerent and bellicose. He gave few olive branches, alternative agreement proposals or offers of even toughly negotiated hopes. Instead, powerful economic sanctions on Iran kick in now, applying also against any allies who continue trading with Iran.
Trump argued the agreement has allowed Iran to continue to process uranium, to develop non-nuclear weapons and to interfere with its neighbors militarily. He derided the deal as inadequate and inappropriate. He gave no indication Iran ever abridged terms of the deal.
Trump, of course, offered a partisan re-statement of the deal: According to Politifact.com, the deal restricted certain Iranian nuclear activities for 10 to 25 years, and allowed for more intrusive, permanent monitoring. It also forbade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. In exchange, Iran was relieved of crippling economic sanctions. It allowed for verification.
In other words, it is everything we are simultaneously seeking from North Korea.
European leaders called on Iran to stay in the program despite the U.S. stance. Former President Barack Obama called the move “misguided.” Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, said he has directed his diplomats to negotiate with Russia, other European countries and China about remaining in the nuclear deal, but said that Iran is ready to start unlimited uranium enrichment if these negotiations do not yield benefits in a couple of weeks.
Of course, there were other ways for the U.S. to seek the further demands it wants to negotiate without withdrawing completely.
Trump’s approach leaves a large number of issues left in an uncertain state:
- Worldwide oil prices will rise, in part because of general uncertainty, but absolutely because Iranian oil will be blocked. Iran sells 40% of its oil to Europe.
- Iran is threatening Israel and Israeli outposts in nearby Syria.
- Winning trust from allies will be a major problem.
- The immediate future of compliance efforts and international nuclear inspections are in doubt.
- The break in the nuclear deal means real and immediate problems for the Iranian president, who may be forced to resign by harder voices who will never want to make an agreement with the U.S. again.
- Economic sanctions will put a strain on Iranian banks and oil companies. In turn, that will create problems for Europe and markets that thrive on stability.
- The Iranian parliament’s Nuclear Committee said it would install more centrifuges and enrich uranium beyond the levels allowed under the accord. Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for nuclear power plants or—if enriched at much higher levels—as fissile material for nuclear weapons. Or it could start working in secret on the weapons.
- Iran’s economy is failing again. The BBC says in real terms, Iranians have become 15% poorer over the last 10 years. Unemployment may be as high as 40%. That creates a population that is already on edge.
- Russia and China are less subject to U.S. sanctions and will move to fill the vacuum left by the U.S.
True Trump supporters may be the only ones who see good news here.