The Iran Deal: Leave Well Enough Alone

    Dov S. Zakheim

    Politics, Middle East

    Vice President Mike Pence laughs as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a baseball bat as they attend a Made in America product showcase event at the White House in Washingto

    The president is merely creating the perception that he is acting decisively.

    Donald Trump’s decision to “decertify” Iran—which really means that the administration no longer is prepared to certify that Tehran is complying with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran nuclear agreement—actually would do nothing to the deal itself. All decertification means is that the Congress can choose to re-impose prior sanctions on Iran or impose new ones. In other words, the president is merely creating the perception that he is acting decisively; he is not, as he promised, actually taking the United States out of the agreement. Indeed, had he chosen to do so, Trump simply could have refused to issue the waivers that kept the pre-agreement sanctions from being imposed. Instead, when faced with a tough decision, the president blinked.

    There is a general consensus that the JCPOA is a flawed agreement. It has not prevented Iran from continuing its missile development program. It has not forced Iran to open its military facilities to inspection. Its duration is far too short: even its lengthiest provision, which calls for IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for twenty-five years, is really nothing more than a blink of an eye to a nation with a history spanning several millennia. At issue, however, is whether it is possible to renegotiate the JCPOA’s provisions, and, if not, what might be the implications of a new round of Congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.

    The JCPOA did not provide for the United States to lift those sanctions that were directed at Iran’s support for terrorism or its human rights records, nor did it completely prevent the maintenance of sanctions against American firms doing business with Iran. In particular, it permitted the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, a provision that Boeing quickly seized upon when it signed a $ 20 billion agreement with Tehran. The agreement also provided for the end of sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors, enabling it to re-enter the international financial system and to capitalize upon its largest source of export income.

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