Throughout his election campaign and first eight months in office, President Donald J. Trump has never wavered on his criticism of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. This plan was, in the most basic terms, a nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and the international community in 2015. It allowed Iran to pursue the development of nuclear power whilst, supposedly, preventing that country from attaining a nuclear arsenal. In a 20-minute address Friday, the president announced that he would not re-certify this deal, as he is required to do if Iran meets its obligations.
The JCPOA was ratified by the European Union and the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members (The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France and China). President Trump has often criticized former President Barack Obama for his role in crafting the agreement, pointing out that Iran benefitted enormously from a lifting of sanctions in addition to being able to continue its pursuit of nuclear capability.
Flaws in the Iran Deal
Supporters of the JCPOA argue that it prevents the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons through limits placed on the production and acquisition of certain vital materials. Under this agreement, however, Iran was permitted to continue research into the development of advanced centrifuges. Central to the process of uranium enrichment, centrifuges are vital for both the generation of nuclear power and the production of nuclear weapons. This was not the only flaw in the deal, however; enforcement of Iran’s compliance has been difficult. The Islamic regime does not allow the inspection of its military facilities, where, it is believed, nuclear materials may currently be stored.
During his address, the president accused the Iranians of using intimidation to limit the scope of activity of international inspectors. Iran has also exceeded the quantity of heavy water it is allowed to produce, under the terms of the deal.
Iran is also continuing its quest to produce missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, something the agreement fails to address. Of particular concern is the possibility of Iran building intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Possibly the greatest weakness of the JCPOA are the so-called ‘sunset clauses.’ Beginning eight years after the signing of the deal, certain restrictions begin to fall away. Whilst it can be argued that the JCPOA might well have delayed Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, no honest observer denies that the agreement was, for Iran, anything more than a temporary obstacle.
Trump’s New Iran Strategy
The president believes that inaction, when it comes to dealing with Iran’s hostile, Islamist regime, is not only not an option, but is highly time-sensitive. “History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat,” he said Friday, “the more dangerous that threat becomes.” Going on to describe Iran’s leaders as “fanatical,” Trump spent some time listing the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and its frequent calls for the destruction of both the United States and Israel. “We should not take lightly [the Iranian regime’s] sinister vision for the future,” he warned.
Insisting that the Iranians are “not living up to the spirit of the deal,” Trump outlined a more comprehensive approach to the issue. He called upon America’s allies to work with him to counter Iran’s support of terrorism and announced his intention to impose new sanctions on the Iranian government. Additionally, he described potential financial restrictions aimed at the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is known to have trained and financed the Lebanese terror group, Hezbollah. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are also operating in Syria, in support of that country’s embattled regime.
To accompany the signing of the JCPOA, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. Under this law, the president is required to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA every 90 days. It is this recertification that Trump has now denied. Congress now has 60 days to take action to address the concerns raised. The president was unequivocal in his intention to withdraw from the Iran deal if the United States is unable to impose stronger terms and conditions.
It is likely that the JCPOA will now remain in limbo for, perhaps, several months until the U.N. Security Council hammers out new provisions. Several more months may pass until Iran agrees to those provisions. President Trump may not be inclined to allow the situation to go unresolved for such a protracted period, however.