Walking Away From The Nuclear Deal With Iran Would Be A Gift To Iran

President Trump seems intent on walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran. If he does, he'll be handing a gift to Iran and harming American national interests significantly.

Dennis Ross, who served in senior diplomatic positions under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, argues that walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran will benefit Iran and harm American interests:

If [President Trump] withdraws, he withdraws alone. The Europeans will not join him, especially after having been willing to negotiate with the administration and accept a number of concessions: sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile testing, a joint statement on limiting what Iran should be able to do after 2030 and a readiness to raise the costs to the Iranians of their destabilizing actions in the region. Even if the British, French and Germans are not prepared to go as far as the administration might like, they have acknowledged the Trump administration’s concerns about the deal and been willing to address them at least in part.

Walking away will end that. It will isolate the United States, not the Iranians. Pressure on the Iranians has always been most effective when the United States was joined by others. In fact, it was only when the European Union decided to impose a boycott on Iranian oil that Iran truly felt squeezed, beginning to negotiate after declaring it would never do so as long as it was under sanctions.

Unfortunately, the Europeans won’t simply stick with the deal; they will go to great lengths to keep the Iranians in — and the Iranians know how to play on European fears. Already Tehran is declaring that it could move swiftly to install new and far more effective centrifuges, and not limit their output. That will surely stoke European fears about an increasing risk of war and lead them to offer incentives to the Iranians to stay in the deal.

For those who say the administration can pressure Europe by threatening to impose sanctions on European companies that do business with the Iranians, don’t bet on it. The Europeans have always resisted such secondary sanctions, and given Trump’s unpopularity with European publics, few leaders there will want to appear to give in to American threats.

(…)

But my concerns about an American walkaway go deeper. It would create the illusion of toughness on Iran without the effect. The danger that Iran poses is its expansion in the region. It is using Shiite militia proxies to gain a stranglehold over governments. It is embedding itself militarily in Syria, even trying to change the demographic balance by importing Shiite militias (and Shiite civilians ) to populate Sunni areas — something designed to prevent refugees from returning to their homes but also something likely to ensure an ongoing insurgency in Syria. Worse, Iran seems increasingly less risk-averse in Syria. It acted out of character when it chose to challenge Israel directly, and not through one of its proxies, when it flew a drone into Israeli airspace.

Israel has made clear that it cannot live with an expanding Iranian military presence in Syria, which the Israelis believe includes plans to fabricate advanced guidance systems in Syria and Lebanon for the more than 120,000 rockets Hezbollah possesses. Israel’s size and relatively small number of critical military and civilian infrastructure targets mean that it does not have the luxury of waiting if Iran makes this move. It is easy to see how a war between the Israelis and Iran/Hezbollah starts but not how it ends.

Ross is largely correct, of course. The Europeans have largely seemed to humor the Trump Administration’s efforts to find a way to toughen the JCPOA in the months since President Trump decertified Iranian compliance with the agreement, However, it seems clear that they would not go along with the United States should the President decide to pull out of the agreement altogether, which could come as early as next month. Additionally, it seems utterly clear that the other parties involved in the negotiation of the JCPOA, Russia and China, will not go along with any efforts to undermine the agreement. Given that, that the United States would be left standing out alone without any support from around the world in what would be a far more confrontational approach toward relations with the Islamic Republic. Additionally, pulling out of the deal could end up emboldening the hardliners in Iran and could cause them to use that event as an opportunity to reverse Iran’s own position on the deal and return to the pre-JCPOA era when the country’s nuclear research program was proceeding virtually unmonitored and unimpeded. The more likely probability, though, is that Iran will threaten to go down that road as a means of ensuring that the Europeans don’t reimpose sanctions that have already been lifted thanks to the agreement and to continue lifting sanctions as required under the agreement notwithstanding what the United States might do.

Ross also has a point when he brings up the issue of Iran’s expanding presence in, and influence over Syria, and what that means for potential conflict with Israel in the future. As he notes, though, pulling out of the JCPOA will make the likelihood that the United States can put together the kind of international coalition we would need to counter such a threat  to prevent the possibility of conflict between Israel and Iranian-backed elements in Lebanon and Syria or between these Iranian-backed elements and nations such as Saudi Arabia, which is already effectively at war with an Iranian proxy in Yemen will be significantly lower. Indeed, taken in context with other moves that this President has taken with regard to our allies, the only thing that withdrawing from the JCPOA will accomplish is to isolate from our allies even further.

Ross concludes:

Trump may believe that walking away from the deal makes him look tough on Tehran. It doesn’t. It ignores the real threat and gives the Iranians a win. They will know we are alone and that there will be no meaningful pressure to stop what they are doing in the region. The great irony is that one way to deal with the vulnerabilities created by the agreement and bolster our deterrence is to demonstrate to the Iranians that we will react whenever their behaviors cross the line, starting in the region. The Iran deal bought time on the nuclear issue, and now is surely not the moment to throw it away.

And yet that’s exactly what President Trump seems prepared to do.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Middle East, National Security, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    100% to all these points. The Iran deal may not be perfect, but it’s the best deal possible. And we have absolutely no leverage to change it in any meaningful way.

    Further, walking away from the Iran deal (when the majority of experts agree that Iran is acting in compliance) also hurts the possibility of any long standing deal with North Korea.

    BTW, it’s also worth noting that much of the decision to walk away is based on pressure being put on us by two client states – Israel and Saudi Arabia – who don’t want to see Iran gain more power in the region. Anyone remember the halcyon days when the GOP argued that we should vote against Hillary Clinton because she was too close to the Saudi’s?




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  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    It’s pretty clear that Dennison cannot think, strategically speaking, any further than how to comb his hair over in order to cover his bald head. Or, I suppose, how to contain his rants to 140 characters.
    And every day I find myself still wondering…when is someone in the Republican Party going to stand up and say, enough?
    A lot of his nonsense will be able to be cleared up when the Congress flips in November, and a Democrat takes the White House in 2020. The damage he is doing to the courts, and to our International standing, wont be so easy to fix.
    Elections have consequences. Anyone who voted for “Not Hillary”, in a swing state that went to Dennison, should be falling on their swords.




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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Doug, this seems to be missing something, I think I know what you are saying but can’t be sure (bolded where I think it’s missing) :

    As he notes, though, pulling out of the JCPOA will make the likelihood that the United States can put together the kind of international coalition we would need to counter such a threat at to work within the region to prevent the possibility of conflict between Israel and Iranian-backed elements in Lebanon and Syria or between these Iranian-backed elements and nations such as Saudi Arabia, which is already effectively at war with an Iranian proxy in Yemen.

    As to this:

    Given that, that the United States would be left standing out alone without any support from around the world in what would be a far more confrontational approach toward relations with the Islamic Republic.

    In trump’s mind that’s a feature, not a bug.




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  4. @OzarkHillbilly:

    I’ve updated the relevant paragraph to make my point clearer, or perhaps just clear. That’s what I get for writing before the caffeine kicked in.




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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    when is someone in the Republican Party going to stand up and say, enough?

    Already happened several times…. as they say they aren’t going to run for reelection.




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  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That’s pretty much what I figured. Thanx.




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  7. Kathy says:

    I’m surprised to hear myself say this, but trump has a valid point (I think I need to take a shower now). Iran is causing other problems, not covered by the deal.

    But he’s going about it the worst way possible.

    What he should be doing is making use of the State Department, talking to America’s allies, as well as Russia and China, about what else to do and how else to pressure Iran.

    By demeaning the deal, which he probably sees only as an Obama product that has to be destroyed because it is Obama’s, he’s demeaning his own allies, Russia, and China.

    The Iran deal is rather similar to the arms limitations and arms control treaties with the USSR. The Soviets were doing a lot more than deploying nukes. But Reagan, Ford, Carter, etc. did not tear up such deals because they didn’t apply to stuff outside their scope. Instead they pressured the Soviets by other means, with the help of allies.

    Surely if a superpower could be contained back then, a regional power like Iran can be contained now.




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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Kathy:

    What he should be doing is making use of the State Department,

    What State Department?




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  9. Kathy says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I forgot. Trump probably thinks it has Hillary cooties.




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  10. @Kathy:

    Iran is causing other problems, not covered by the deal.

    That’s the entire point, though. Walking away from the deal makes it harder for us to deal with those other issues with anything approaching a united front.

    The JCPOA isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t deal with issues such as Iran’s missile program or its backing of groups like Hezbollah. But that’s because it was never intended to. The sole purpose of the JCPOA was to reach some kind of agreement that would slow the growth of Iran’s nuclear program and allow for an inspection regime that would give us access to the internal operations of that program that we otherwise never would have had. It was possible precisely because of the international sanctions that we were able to obtain specifically directed at the nuclear program. Had we tried to make the deal contingent on other issues, it most likely would have failed.




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  11. michael reynolds says:

    If Iran doesn’t want to be bombed I guess they should have told their co-religionists in Qatar to pay Jared Kushner his bribe. It’ll be funny if the cause of a middle eastern apocalypse is not a devil wearing the number 666, but a building in Manhattan with the number 666.




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  12. Kathy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    That’s my point. Trump is like an idiot complaining his new Mercedes is the worst car ever made, because it can’t fly him to Australia in under six hours.

    But stopping Iran’s other activities will take more resources, diplomatic, commercial and military, like limiting the Soviets’ activities took back in the day.




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  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @Kathy:
    A comprehensive middle-east policy only awaits Steve Doocy’s approval.




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  14. SKI says:

    @michael reynolds: Worse… Lou Dobbs.




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  15. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    OT…
    This van der Zwaan sentencing cannot be overstated…he was caught red-handed telling a bald-faced lie about a direct link between the Dennison Campaign and Russian Intelligence. That member of Russian Intelligence worked for Manafort in the Ukraine.
    As an added bonus, his father-in-law is a Russian Oligarch mentioned in the Steele Dossier.
    van der Zwaan will be spending 30 days in jail for what is allegedly fake news. Hope he enjoys his stay in America.




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  16. Mister Bluster says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:..Anyone who voted for “Not Hillary”, in a swing state that went to Dennison, should be falling on their swords.

    That’s the easy way out.
    But if they are going to take it they should at least wait until each one votes for the Democrat in the upcoming elections.
    That might even be more painful for them than disembowelment but I think they can do it.




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  17. @michael reynolds:

    And implementation by Prince Jared




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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    A lot of his nonsense will be able to be cleared up when the Congress flips in November, and a Democrat takes the White House in 2020.

    I wish I shared your optimism. As long as the Rs manage to hold onto 41 seats in the Senate they will continue their successful strategy of obstructing everything, then running against Washington dysfunction.




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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And implementation by Prince Jared

    That gets to the real issue, doesn’t it. Trump and his intimates are making policy based on their own interests. The interests of the nation don’t seem to enter into their considerations. What have the Saudis promised Trump and his family?




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  20. grumpy realist says:

    Trump only knows how to bluster. If we walk away from this nuclear deal with Iran it isn’t going to be because we’re going to get a better one down the pipeline (we’re the only ones making a fuss about Iran–everyone else seems more or less ok with them as is.) It’s going to be the equivalent of dropping a box of white mice on the floor and then running around trying to scoop them up again.




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  21. Slugger says:

    Military action in that part of the world has a poor record. The 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war did not remove Hezbollah from southern Lebanon; it allows Hezbollah to claim that they are the only military that has defeated the IDF. The war against Saddam Hussein incurred tremendous costs in dollars, human lives, and America’s stature in the world with a proTehran faction installed in Baghdad. Our support for the Sunni rebellion in Syria is just about a total failure with the US needing a Syrian-Hezbollah-Iranian-Russian force to protect us from ISIS.
    Mr. Trump, the military works best when not used. A little bluster is o.k. Too much saber rattling will backfire.




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  22. Hal_10000 says:

    The ultimate goal of the people whispering in Trump’s ear is to have a war. Israel wants us to bomb Iran. Saudi Arabia does. The neocons do. None of them particularly care what a disaster it would be; it would advance their interests. Abandoning the Iran deal for Trump is about urinating all over anything Obama has touched; had he negotiated that deal, he’d proclaim it a work of genius. But for those who have serious policy goals, this is the first step toward a war.




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  23. Tyrell says:

    This was not a perfect agreement, far from it. Secretary Kerry probably did as well as anyone could have considering some of the people that he was having to deal with, and I will confess that I was a critic. This agreement is better than nothing. It does give the US and other countries a foot in the door and some leverage here if Iran pulls any kind of nonsense. It also gives some stability concerning Iran.
    My advice to Secretary Kerry is to steer clear from the car dealers.




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  24. TM01 says:

    Funny, but I thought that pallet full of cash was a big gift to Iran.

    As was cancelling that missile defense equipment for Poland.




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  25. TM01 says:

    I expect the Iran deal to ultimately end up as good and effective as the NK nuclear deal was.




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  26. An Interested Party says:

    Well, it’s not like Republican Administrations don’t like helping Iran….look what happened under Reagan (Iran-Contra) and Bush II (Iraq Debacle)…this is just following the GOP trend…




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  27. TM01 says:

    @An Interested Party: so you’re saying Obama is Bush III?

    Can you make a stupider argument?

    Seems like you should be against this then. Your lack of coherence is staggering.




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  28. An Interested Party says:

    @TM01: Read this very slowly so that you may be able to comprehend it…if your fearful leader pulls us out of the Iran deal, that would strengthen Iran, just as Bush II helped Iran by invading Iraq and just as Reagan cozied up with Iran by selling them weapons…




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  29. TM01 says:

    @An Interested Party: slowly…..a literal pallet full of cash strengthened Iran.

    It’s your stupid way of thinking that is going to result in Iran having nuclear weapons in a few years. And you’ll naturally find some way to blame Trump.

    Peace in our time!

    Just like we stopped NK from obtaining nuclear weapons!

    It’s fascinating that literally the only guy on the face of the planet to call the NK twitter battle situation was a cartoonist.

    But no. I’m sure you’ll be right this time. Just because your approach hasn’t ever worked in the past, doesn’t mean it won’t work this time.




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  30. grumpy realist says:

    @TM01:Hey, person-who-doesn’t-do-research–that “pallet of cash” was money that Iran owned. As in “it’s theirs.” Which we finally paid back to them.

    You a thief now? Someone who doesn’t carry out his side of a contract? No wonder no one wants to do business with you.




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  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @TM01: The stupid, it hurts.




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  32. TM01 says:

    @grumpy realist: oh. Well, that’s ok then.
    I’m sure it’ll be used to help the Iranian people and won’t be used to fund more terrorism.

    What a great deal!

    Thanks for clearing up that the Iran deal itself wasn’t really a huge gift for Iran!




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