Trump Administration Signals Plans to Abandon Iran Deal

With a looming deadline on whether to continue the suspension of sanctions on Iran, the Trump administration is frantically working to demonstrate Tehran’s non-compliance under the so-called Iran Deal and thereby fulfill an ill-conceived campaign promise.

The problem is that, according to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Commission, Iran has been in full compliance with the agreement, and only non-compliance could legitimately provide President Trump the excuse he needs to withdraw.

On September 15, Trump must decide whether to renew the suspension of sanctions put in place with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA—the “Iran Deal”). If he does this, there is a second deadline on October 15 (and every 90 days afterward) where he is required to report to Congress whether Iran is in compliance.

Therefore, his administration has been trying to fabricate any excuse to justify a claim that Iran is not complying before these deadlines.

The latest attempt was seen in an address given by United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to the ultra-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on September 5. Her address consisted of many falsehoods about Iran’s nuclear activities, and a range of false justifications for accusing Iran of non-compliance in the JCPOA.

Several analyists and the New York Times editorial board have excoriated Ambassador Haley for this talk, pointing out her flawed reasoning and disregard for facts.

Here is a capsule of Ambassador Haley’s misstatements:

  1. “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”—The IAEA in its most recent (and all previous reports since the signing of the agreement) has certified that Iran is in full compliance with the agreement.
  2. “There are hundreds of undeclared sites that have suspicious activity that they (the IAEA) haven’t looked at.” – All nuclear sites are under full IAEA inspection. Non-nuclear sites can only be inspected under the agreement if there is sufficient cause to believe they are involved in nuclear activity. There are no such sites at present. Ambassador Haley herself met with IAEA Chief Amano and presented no evidence of any suspicious non-nuclear site. Iran has not prevented the IAEA from inspecting any requested site.
  3. “The deal [Obama] struck wasn’t supposed to be just about nuclear weapons. It was meant to be an opening with Iran; a welcoming back into the community of nations.”—This is false as the Obama administration clearly stated. The JCPOA was limited to Iran’s nuclear activities.
  4. “We should welcome a debate over whether the JCPOA is in U.S. national security interests. The previous administration set up the deal in a way that denied us that honest and serious debate.”—In fact, the U.S. Congress held dozens of debates over the JCPOA before it was ratified.
  5. “Iranian compliance involves three different pillars. The first is the nuclear agreement itself, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. The second pillar is UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the nuclear deal, but also restricted numerous other Iranian behaviors. And the third pillar is the Corker-Cardin law, which governs the President’s relationship with Congress as it relates to Iran policy.”—The difficulty is that Iran was only party to one of these “pillars,” the JCPOA, and so the other two have been imposed outside of the agreement. Making Iran responsible for these extra requirements is not part of “Iranian compliance” under the JCPOA.

President Trump can simply ignore the fact that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA and refuse to renew suspension of the sanctions on September 15. He could also wait until October 15 and report to Congress that Iran is in non-compliance. This would throw the question to Congress—a technique that Trump is using with regularity. Congress could then vote to re-impose the sanctions, and barring public resistance, that is what they will probably do, given the broad support for the Corker-Carden bill (98-1 in favor).

It is essential, then, that all people who support the JCPOA contract their legislators and insist that the United States remain committed to the JCPOA. Not to do so would be disastrous for the United States in its relations with the other five nations who ratified the agreement (the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia), and would invite Iran to retaliate by once again resuming uranium enrichment. It is an unneeded provocation and a step backward from stability and peace in the Middle East.

• First published in New America Media
William O. Beeman is a Professor, Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. During 2013-2014 he will be a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Anthropology, Stanford University. Read other articles by William, or visit William's website.