BY MILO KAHNEY
On Tuesday May 8, President Donald Trump withdrew from the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, thrusting the entire world in a diplomatic whirlwind. The Iran deal is a comprehensive agreement between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia. The Deal is both a preventative measure to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and a major diplomatic victory for a country that has been hostile to the West since the late 1970s. The other international members of the agreement are still complying, and the U.S. pulling out of it without consent presents a major strain for U.S.-European relations, one of the most powerful global alliances.
Iranians and Americans have always had a rocky relationship. The U.S. backed the Shah in a takeover of Iran’s popular democratic government in 1941, and funneled money and military arms to the regime. Ironically, in 1957 the U.S. established the country’s first nuclear research reactor. The Shah, however, proved to be a corrupt and inept leader and, in 1979, Iranians staged their own revolution in one of the most significant world events in the second half of the 20th century. The Iranian Revolution was fueled by a joint hatred of the Shah and of the Western powers that put him in place. That same year, a group of Iranian college students took over the United States embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage, eventually releasing them on Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. In the Iran-Iraq war throughout the 1980s, the U.S. backed Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis.
Iran is primarily an authoritarian government with the Supreme Leader having ultimate control over the affairs of the government, but there are some channels for change, mostly its presidential elections. The catalyst for the deal was the election of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency. Rouhani is a moderate and an academic who is focused more on healing Iran’s stagnant economy, and not promoting some anti-western ideology, like his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran is a big and complex country. It has a bustling middle-class that is relatively liberal and tired of the world viewing their country as a backwards theology ran by extremists. The middle-class wants to restore relations with the U.S. and the Western world. This was reflected in Rouhani’s assumption to the presidencyl. Three-in-four Iranians support the agreement and Rouhani’s approval rating skyrocketed to 88 percent, with 61 percent of the country having a “very positive“ opinion of him.
The deal limits the number of centrifuges that Iran can have from 19,000 to just 5,060. It also decreases Iran’s stockpile of uranium by a whopping 98 percent, and prevents any Uranium enrichment above 3.67 percent – which is the amount needed to create nuclear energy. This is much lower than the 90 percent purity levels needed to create nuclear weapons, however.
On top of these limitations, there are strict conditions for supervision. While the agreement makes it virtually impossible for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran gets relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange. The Islamic Republic gained access to over $100 billion in frozen assets and relief from sanctions that cost the state $160 billion in lost oil revenues between 2012 and 2016. After the deal, Iran’s oil exports doubled and gained limited access to the international banking system.
The United States’ withdrawal also affects its image as a world leader. European companies have already began conducting business in Iran and their governments are eager to uphold the agreement. Trump, however, can slap hefty fines on any company that violates U.S. sanctions. Last week Iranian President Rouhani stated that Iran would still stay in the deal even if the U.S. pulls out. This is a severe blow to the United States’ alliance with the EU and other world powers. As Iran and Europe attempt to salvage the agreement, the U.S. appears to be partnering up with Israel to take a much more aggressive approach towards the Islamic Republic, including a possible airstrike.
Right now, Iran and Israel are facing off in Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the United States to back him in his constant pursuit to destroy Iran by imposing sanctions again and curbing their military influence throughout the region. But Iran’s economy was hardly on the brink of collapse before signing the agreement. The sanctions, essentially, hurt Iran’s economy just enough to get them to the negotiating table but not enough for the U.S. to dictate terms.
If the rest of the members uphold the agreement, it could leave the U.S. out of the most important diplomatic accord of the decade, and pose a severe blow to their status as a superpower. If the agreement does fall apart, then Iran will start to rebuild their nuclear program, infuriating European powers and squandering the first opportunity to ease tensions since the Iranian Revolution. Trump’s “America’s First” view of the world is quickly putting America last.
Trump pulling out of the agreement is a terrible strategic move that alienates the United States from the European powers. It will also erode the already strained Iranian relations and deter other adversaries from inking nuclear deals with the United States in the future.