The Iran Deal Didn’t Change Tehran’s Behavior

    Edward Chang

    Security, Middle East

    Iran's President Rouhani speaks about the nuclear deal in Tehran

    America has options that do not involve taking a hands-off approach to Iran or invading and occupying it. 

    It is often argued that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal has not constrained the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing activity in the Middle East or stopped its ballistic missile testing. When responding to this argument, one of the oddest rebuttals is the claim that such destabilizing activity and missile testing were not a part of the agreement and therefore are irrelevant. This line of thinking says that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is formally known, has constrained Iran’s nuclear activities for a ten to fifteen-year period and therefore is working. Those in favor of the JCPOA claim that, whether or not Iran follows the spirit of the law, Iran is in compliance with the agreement and that is what counts.

    This rebuttal is odd because it reveals everything wrong with the agreement. While the JCPOA is certainly a considerable diplomatic achievement given the four decades of mutual enmity between the United States and Iran, its success ultimately depends upon improved relations between the two countries. However, both the nature of the regime in Tehran and the diametrically opposed interests between America and Iran make improved relations quite the pipedream. A deal focused narrowly on Iran’s nuclear ambitions places limits on the weapons one side can wield against the other without addressing the core issue—that Iran is an aggressive, revisionist power that is antithetical to the United States and its allies.

    Yet hopes for improved relations are stated in the JCPOA’s preface, “[The signatories] anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.” Supporters of the deal now say too much is being made of that line- a line that appears but once in 159 pages. But why would negotiators bother making such a grand proclamation at the outset of such an important treaty if it was not meant to be taken seriously? Perhaps it is because the JCPOA is about more than just nuclear weapons.

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