The Future of the JCPOA: Why did Trump want to leave, and what does the United States exit mean?

Donald Trump, throughout his Presidential campaign, made it clear that he was the ultimate deal maker. He made the best deals; no-one else came close. Trump even ‘wrote’ a book called Trump: The Art of the Deal in 1987 where he gave an account of his life and also what he believes was the key to business success. It is therefore bizarre that during his presidency, Trump has made some questionable decisions with regards to what he refers to as “bad deals” for the United States of America. He pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement, an agreement that deals with greenhouse gas emission mitigation, adaptation and finance, starting in 2020. 194 states and the European Union have signed the agreement, meaning that the US joins the rather small list of countries outside this world-unifying accord. This list once included Syria and Nicaragua, with Syria not joining due to the long and brutal civil war that has engulfed the Middle Eastern state. Nicaragua on the other hand hadn’t joined as they felt that the agreement didn’t do enough to combat greenhouse gas emissions. Both states have now joined the accord leaving the United States, one of the most powerful and largest polluters on the planet, as the only country in the world not a part of the agreement. Either Trump has seen something that all these other countries haven’t and thinks that there is a better deal to be had, or, and this seems more likely, he is not the deal maker he insists that he is.

Continuing the rather worrying trend in politics today of pulling out of deals with no clear plan of what to do next, Trump pulled the US from arguably one of the most important agreements to date. On the 8th May 2018 ‘The Donald’ announced that the US would be leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme and meant that they would not be able to create nuclear weapons. The US President has made his feelings on the agreement abundantly clear, calling it ‘terrible’, ‘a catastrophe’ and ‘incompetent’ and he has also called it the ‘worst deal he has ever seen’. This is because he claims that the US didn’t get anything from the deal, and yes they didn’t get much in the way of physical rewards, but instead got something a lot more valuable, an Iran that was not aggressively attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Although, I’m not surprised Trump is unable to grasp the concept of a deal that does not involve receiving something physical, like a car or access to the White House’s Oval Office.

However, Trump isn’t the only critic of the deal; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the deal was too generous to Iran, which from an Israeli perspective is understandable as Iran still has a nuclear capability of sorts, which is a threat to them. On the other side of the fence, Iranian hardliners felt that they had to give up too much for the deal, and criticised the deal makers on their side. It just goes to show that you can’t please everyone.

Importantly, Iran’s conservative government agreed to the deal, mainly due to the crippling sanctions that had been imposed on them because of their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran agreed that it would limit its nuclear production to solely peaceful activities, whilst also letting independent investigators check their nuclear facilities to make sure they were keeping to their part of the deal. In return, the sanctions would be lifted, thus improving their economy and meaning they were able to access $100bn worth of assets that had been frozen overseas. If the JCPOA was found to have been broken by Iran, the sanctions would automatically be reinstated by the UN for ten years, with the possibility of a five year extension.

This agreement has curbed Iran’s ability to create nuclear weapons, and has improved the security concerns in the Middle East. The main fear being what it would mean to have a nuclear armed Iran in regards to the safety of Israel. Iran’s position on Israel is well known, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei having been recorded saying that Iran’s aim is the “eradication of the Zionist regime in the next 25 years”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out he’s referring to Israel. With their ballistic missile capability, if the reigns were not pulled on their nuclear programme, it wouldn’t have been long before Iran had the ability to place a nuclear warhead on a missile and target Jerusalem. Obviously, this can’t be allowed to go unchallenged.

Trump, in his ‘ultimate wisdom’, has pinpointed where he feels the deal is weakest, whilst also claiming that he has studied the JCPOA more than any other person in the world, which I highly doubt. The only thing I am fairly certain Donald Trump has studied extensively is a KFC menu. Below, I have highlighted some of Trump’s incorrect assumptions and attempted to briefly explain where and why he has gone wrong.

Before the deal, Iran was producing low-enriched uranium, the stuff needed for nuclear weapons. Trump, correctly, understands that enriched uranium is a bad thing and that if a country is outwardly hostile and desires nuclear capability it is even more of a threat if it produces this sort of uranium. As a result, the JCPOA reduced Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile by 98%, from 10,000kg to 300kg, with this being upheld for 15 years. This significant drop in the amount of uranium Iran possesses has meant that it they’re not able to produce a nuclear warhead, due to the quantities needed. On top of this, they were only allowed to create enriched uranium at 3.67% purity, which is enough for providing power but nowhere near the amount needed to create a bomb, which is around 90%. However, with the US dropping out of the deal, and if the deal then collapses, Iran will be able to go back to creating the enriched uranium needed for weapons, something Trump wants to avoid, but his actions seem to be suggesting the contrary.

The Donald also believes that Iran is able to self-inspect their nuclear facilities and is capable of producing uranium capable of weaponisation behind the JCPOA’s back, and surprise-surprise he has his facts wrong. Iran can’t do this. The International Atomic Energy Agency carries out rigorous and comprehensive inspections in order to decide whether Iran are complying with the deal and are not diverting any nuclear materials to weapon production. The possibility of illicit independent production is a subject that many Republicans in America have raised, how do we know that Iran isn’t secretly producing uranium to use in weapons? Although this is hard to monitor, the repercussions for Iran if they were to be found out would be devastating, and ultimately probably not worth the risk.

The IAEA are constantly monitoring Iranian nuclear facilities with high tech equipment, and if they find something suspicious or that they believe to be contrary to the JCPOA, they can request access to the sites they believe have broken the rules. Iran can then either admit the inspectors or provide an alternative that the IAEA deem agreeable. However, if an agreement is not reached, then a process that takes a maximum of 24 days is started, where Iran needs to allow the IAEA access to the site, resulting in Iran being placed under heavy sanctions once again, if found guilty. Trump incorrectly believes that this process begins AFTER 24 days and could take up to 6 months. The “breakout time”, the period it would take Iran to make a bomb, was also increased from just a few months to over a year, a definite benefit of the deal. This was due to Iran lacking the capabilities and resources to make a bomb in that time. Interestingly, the IEAE have carried out 10 inspections, and all 10 have found Iran to be complying with the JCPOA, so much for Iran lying. It would be foolish to assume that Iran is completely compliant with the JCPOA. If there were any loopholes then they would have been jumped through almost instantly, like a collie going round an agility course. If there is the ability to pull the wool over the American’s eyes, I don’t think Iran would ignore it. We can’t ignore the possibility of Iran not being fully compliant but all the evidence suggests that they are, and international deals should not be put off or pulled out of because of speculation and unsubstantiated claims.

The Thing Is, it isn’t all sunshine and roses for America as it leaves the JCPOA. Yes, it will allow them to impose heavy sanctions on Iran independently from other nations and exert their influence on the Middle Eastern state. However, the idea has been floated by President Trump that they might not trade with countries that have dealings with Iran, allowing him to potentially focus on growing the American job market and improving domestic trade deals. This move takes certain countries out of the equation and affects the US’ ability to trade effectively. Some companies that trade with Iran might be forced to stop because of the US, such as Airbus and Boeing, who recently signed a deal to provide aeroplanes to the country, whose aircraft are made using US parts might not be able to sell their planes to Iran because Mr Trump doesn’t want US made parts to be used in Iran. This is ridiculous because the recent deal Iran made with these companies is beneficial for both countries and companies. It creates and sustains US jobs whilst boosting the economy. International trade is important for a country the size of the US, and for a President to be jeopardising it shows a lack of understanding of the global economy.

When Trump is involved, you have to always remember that ultimately, Donald Trump is number one. His ego is huge, and what an ego boost it would be if in the future it turned out that Iran had been developing nuclear weapons and the deal hadn’t prevented this. He would say that he knew this would happen and he tried to warn us. The noise coming out of his mouth would be incessant and unbearable, and we would all then understand how Melania feels when they go out for dinner.

With the US’ withdrawal from the JCPOA, the survival of the deal has been thrown into doubt. If the deal blows up, Iran would be able to begin enriching uranium for weapons production. This creates a huge number of problems. It could initiate an arms race in the Middle East, and it doesn’t bear thinking about what would happen if ISIS or another militant group got hold of a nuclear weapon. It also severely damages the United States’ reputation among its allies. Why would they trust the US, if further on down the line they are going to turn their back on them? The US is soon going to find itself, if it’s not careful, alone, wondering why no-one else wants to come and play with them. More worryingly, there is a lot of noise coming out of the Republican Party, particularly from one of Trump’s National Security Advisers, John Bolton. Which may suggest the US government is considering military intervention to overthrow the current Iranian regime; and as we know from recent history that this might not be the wisest of moves.

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