On May 8, President Donald Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from a 2015 agreement between six major nations and Iran – called the “Iran deal” for short – aimed at ensuring that Iran wouldn’t develop a nuclear weapon, in exchange for lifting sanctions that for 12 years had stifled that country’s economic growth.
Trump’s action has been met with dismay among America’s allies in Europe and Asia and with scathing criticism and opprobrium in the US political circles and the liberal press. It has also raised speculations about the withdrawal’s negative impact on the forthcoming meeting between Trump and North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, to discuss the “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.
Describing the agreement – pushed by his predecessor, Barack Obama – as “a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made,” Trump warned that “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could be strongly sanctioned.” He followed through with a reimposition of sanctions on foreign companies that continue to do business with Iran, giving them either a 90-day or 180-day grace period to terminate their existing contracts, otherwise to face punitive measures by the US government. Among the adversely affected are European firms, whose dealings with Iran jacked up the value of EU-Iran trade from $9.2 billion in 2015 to $25 billion in 2017.
Promptly, “regret and concern” were expressed by America’s European allies that are parties to the Iran deal – France, Britain and Germany; in a joint statement, they also asserted their “continuing commitment” to the agreement. The three nations’ leaders all had personally met with Trump pleading for him not to pull out. “We urge the United States to ensure that the structures of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA, as the deal is officially named] can remain intact,” the statement said, “and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all the other parties to the deal.”
The three European nations’ foreign ministers are set to meet on Monday with their Iranian counterpart to discuss ways of preserving the agreement, in light of Iran President Hassan Rouhani’s statement that the accord could still survive if the other negotiation parties refused to go along with Trump. Should the deal collapse completely, however, Rouhani said he had instructed Iran’s atomic energy agency to prepare to restart uranium enrichment at “an industrial level in a few weeks’ time.”
Ominous was the response of Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, who was quoted as saying the US “no longer wants to cooperate with other parts in the world,” and that it is now turning its back on multilateral relations “with a ferocity that can only surprise us.” “At this point,” he reportedly declared, “we have to replace the United States, which as an international actor has lost vigor, and because of it, in the long term, [has lost] influence.”
The two other parties to the Iran deal are Russia and China which, like France, Britain, and the US, are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. All 15 UNSC members have endorsed the Iran deal, enshrining it through a resolution as part of international law.
The Russian foreign ministry has expressed deep disappointment over Trump’s “refusal to carry out [America’s] commitments” under the 2015 accord. Two major US allies in Asia, Japan and Australia, said they are continuing to support the Iran deal. But no word has come from China as yet.
Trump’s move received enthusiastic support only from Iran’s bitter enemies in the Middle East – Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. On the day Trump announced the withdrawal, Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes on Iran’s facilities in Syria, allegedly in retaliation for an unconfirmed (according to the Guardian) Iranian missile attack on Israeli forces in the Golan Heights that failed to hit targets.
In his own homeground, Trump’s withdrawal announcement has come under severe criticism. Noting that his new plan was “to get an even better deal, one that will also control Iran’s ballistic missiles and its regional influence,” The New York Times said on May 10:
“When it comes to the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, there is no sign Iran or any of the other major powers in the existing and so far successful pact will simply fall in line” with Trump’s plan. “More likely,” the editorial added, “his decision… will allow Iran to resume a robust nuclear program, sour relations with close European allies, erode America’s credibility, lay conditions for a possible wider war in the Middle East, and make it harder to reach a sound agreement with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.”
Hitting hard at Trump himself, the NYT editorial stated: “So far, again and again, he has shown himself to be adept at destroying agreements – a relatively easy task for a president – and utterly lacking in the policy depth or strategic vision and patience to create new ones.” It cited, for instance, Trump’s earlier dumping of the Paris climate change agreement with a promise to provide a better deal that he hasn’t fulfilled.
Susan Rice, former national security adviser of Obama and US ambassador to the UN, warned that US withdrawal “will not force Iran back to the negotiating table… but will leave Iran’s nuclear program unconstrained, and an inconstant America isolated from its allies and far less safe.”
Iran’s full compliance with its obligations under the agreement has been acknowledged by the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as the US intelligence community, the UNSC and Trump’s own top advisers, Rice pointed out: it has relinquished 97% of its enriched uranium stockpile, dismantled 2/3 of its centrifuges (uranium processing machines) and its entire plutonium facility.
“Instead,” she wrote, “it is the (US) that is about to violate the very agreement it negotiated by reimposing nuclear-related sanctions while Iran remains in compliance.” When the US takes such a move, she added, “we undermine international perceptions of our reliability and responsibility.”
On the withdrawal’s impact on the forthcoming Trump-Kim Jong-un “summit” Rice said:
“If Mr. Trump thinks he is sending a strong message of resolve to North Korea, he is again mistaken. Instead he is demonstrating to a far more advanced and unpredictable adversary on the eve of negotiations that the (US) cannot be trusted. He has provided proximate proof that any deal the (US) makes, even a successful one, may be tossed aside on the whim of this or any other president. Our negotiating partners, including Japan, South Korea and China, will doubt our credibility when we most need to demonstrate collective resolve.”
President Duterte, in his early months in office, had the right sense to distrust America’s commitments in signed pacts, such as the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. He ought to reconsider his publicly manifested fulsome trust in his “commander-in-chief,” Donald Trump. Wink wink!
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Published in Philippine Star
May 12, 2018