Trump must rectify nuclear deal with Iran or face the consequences

Actions always speak louder than words, and this idiom is especially applicable to international relations.

A crucial tool for diplomacy and gamesmanship is that countries talk to signify their foreign policy objectives, which allows other countries to interpret what each might do. Rather, actions are important indicators of a country’s true intentions. Actions of consequence can include forming official diplomatic relations, building up military capabilities or entering into bilateral agreements or treaties. One such recent example of the latter is the Iranian nuclear deal.

Officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal was a multi-administration approach to resolve the standoff between the existing nuclear world powers — namely the United States — and Iran, which was secretly attempting to start building nuclear weapons.

Beginning over a decade ago, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China and the EU jointly decided that they neither wanted another war in the Middle East nor a new nuclear-armed country. Together they imposed economic sanctions on Iran, which over time crippled the country’s economy.

Iran was eventually forced to choose between a future with nuclear weapons, economic calamity or a future without these weapons but intertwined with the globalizing economy which promised economic prosperity. Iran chose the latter, and in 2015 the agreement was implemented.

Nine separate times, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran has stayed compliant with the JCPA. However, Trump has continued to express his dissatisfaction with the agreement’s shortcomings. One of Trump’s two biggest gripes include the deal’s sunset clauses, which allow some limitations placed on Iran to lapse beginning in 2025. The other grievance is Iran’s continued meddling in regional affairs.

Trump must recertify Iran’s compliance or reimpose sanctions by May 12. Even after last-minute trips to Washington, D.C., by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to assuage Trump, all signs point to him reimposing sanctions — a mistake that both fundamentally underscores Trump’s knowledge on the issue and the consequences.

If Trump reimposes sanctions, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani has said his country would immediately reignite its nuclear program, recreating the same conundrum faced previously.

Then President Barack Obama completed this deal with something Trump lacks: foresight. The sunset clauses are a future concern, but the deal was reached to stop Iran’s immediate nuclear breakout. Obama’s calculated decision — which could prove wrong — was that of a future Iran bound to the world economy. In this scenario, Iran would be too intertwined with and dependent on the global economy to ever consider reneging on the spirit of the deal, even after the limitations expire. America backing out of the deal now undermines the time needed to see Obama’s plan succeed.

Trump’s second gripe is a separate issue altogether. Iran has been interfering in its neighbors’ affairs for a millennium. What one country interprets as meddling, the other interprets as policy integral to its security. For example, the American policy of containment during the Cold War stretched its meddling capabilities halfway around the world, but always justified it with destabilizing the threat of communism.

For Iran, the same complex paradigm exists. It interprets U.S.  intervention and military installations throughout the Middle East as hostile to Iranian security. Iran aids its proxies in the region, the Syrian government, Hezbollah or the Yemen Houthi rebels, for security-driven purposes. By destabilizing certain countries, Iran simultaneously weakens its regional adversaries, the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia, while building relationships and allies across the region.

After forfeiting their nuclear ambitions, Iran will never acquiesce to American demands of disengagement from the Middle East because this now remains the country’s greatest security-seeking trump card.

This administration neither understands the complex underpinnings the JCPA was built upon, nor does it consider the ramifications of letting it collapse. Trump continues to derail decades of American foreign policy seemingly to boast about his accomplishments on Twitter or to create a talking point for his next campaign rally. For humanity's sake, let us hope Trump’s talk is also cheap.