Recently, several Democrat candidates for the 2020 elections declared that, should they be elected President, they would vote to re-enter in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Just a few weeks before that, a long list of retired generals and diplomats released a statement exhorting the current administration to rejoin the Iran deal.
The JCPOA was signed between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (US, UK, Russia, France, China + Germany), and it aimed to eliminate Iran’s domestic pathway to a nuclear weapon, in exchange for lifting the sanctions that were suffocating Iran’s economy.
President Trump withdrew from the accord in May 2018, claiming it was a “horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.” According to Trump, the JCPOA didn’t really constrain Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and it didn’t face other serious security issues in which Iran is involved. By pulling out of the deal, Trump re-imposed the US sanctions that were previously lifted from the Iranian economy, which especially affect the oil, banking, and shipping sectors. In Trump’s view, the US’ pullout will force Iran to come back the negotiating table and discuss a new agreement, which would require Iran to conform with more severe obligations than those established in the JCPOA.
However, such scenario is quite simply implausible, since neither Iran nor any other party to the agreement appears willing to reopen the negotiations―and they don’t want to reimpose sanctions to renegotiate a deal they feel is working. It took the European, Russian, Chinese and Iranian leaders years to achieve a deal they all agreed on in conjunction with the US, and they don’t have any incentive to try and come up with a new and improved agreement, since they’re all well aware it would be an extremely difficult attainment to achieve.
The EU, for one, is deeply worried of how Iran might react to a potential annulment of the JCPOA. The most unsettling prospects are the possibility that Iran would initiate a great wave of migration towards Europe, the risk that Iran would stop acting as a barrier for drug trafficking and, most urgently, the threatening connections that the Iranian government has with terrorist organizations in its regions. The EU is so committed to keep the deal alive, that it even considered creating a “Special Purpose Vehicle” (essentially a 3rd party company) which would allow the EU to engage in financial transactions with Iran while avoiding the US sanctions.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, has repeatedly expressed its appreciation for the EU’s determination to remain in the deal. Moreover, he asserted that the US’ exit from the accord won’t impact Iran’s abidance by the agreement, nor will it damage Iran’s relationship with the other members of the deal.
All things considered, it would be unrealistic for the US to believe in the possibility of drafting a new agreement. And if the US is, in fact, destined to re-join the existing deal, it’s important it doesn’t waste too much time in the process: while the majority of the American public seems to be in favor of reentering the deal, the Iranian population seems to be losing faith in the agreement, and might therefore influence its government not to let the US re-join the deal. By the time (and if ever) the US is persuaded to re-join the JCPOA, the offer might not be on the table anymore.
Despite the JCPOA’s numerous imperfections, it still remains the best guarantee to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Despite the US’ and Israel’s allegations, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Tehran has been abiding by its commitments. Also, besides setting crucial security standards applied to the Iranian nuclear program, the Iran Deal eliminates the need for a costly and uncertain war.
Finally, we can’t expect one, single agreement to provide a resolution for all the issues of contention between two countries. The JCPOA represents a good start point, but by pulling out of it, the US not only demonstrates that it’s an unreliable partner in negotiations, but puts America in the position of contributing to an unstable non-proliferation environment. That the opposite of what America’s supposed to be doing.