Donald Trump has just given a speech in which he confirmed that the US will de-certify the JCPOA, often called the “Iran nuclear deal”, especially in the United States. The move is far more complex than a traditional withdrawal from a formal agreement, but nevertheless, indicates that the Trump administration remains firmly fixated on at the very minimum, undermining Iran and the international community’s confidence in the deal. In doing so the United States is ultimately hedging its bets on the deal collapsing before the US formally withdraws from its commitments under the JCPOA. However, this is a gamble that may ultimately backfire in a manner that Trump himself would describe as “big league”.
What is the JCPOA?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed upon between Iran, the United States, Russia, China, the European Union and EU members Germany, France and the UK individually on 16 January 2015.
The terms of the deal were certified in UN Security Council Resolution 2231 on 20 July 2015. All members of the Security Council voted in favour of the resolution at the time.
While the UN is the highest international body to formalise the JCPOA, the agreement was also ratified by each party to the agreement using the particular legal mechanisms of each state (and in the case of EU, a bloc of states).
The JCPOA prohibits Iran from taking the measures needed to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of multiple sanctions which had previously hindered the ability of Iran to do business not only with the US and EU, but other states whose transactions are often dependent on financial institutions which use Dollars and Euros as a means of exchange.
While the United States has passed unilateral sanctions against Iran subsequent to the JCPOA being agreed upon, it is important to note that the JCPOA only prohibits specific sanctions which are said to relate to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Current status of the JCPOA:
According to the United Nations, Russia, Iran, China, Germany, France, Britain and the EU, Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA. Even the US State Derpartment and US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis recently said that Iran remains technically compliant with the JCPOA.
Internationally, the Israeli regime was alone in condemning the JCPOA while continually challenging the fact that Iran is in compliance with the agreement.
Today, however, Donald Trump formally announced that it is his view that Iran is not in compliance with the deal. Additionally, Trump offered a list of increasingly absurd allegations about Iran that are not directly related to the letter of the JCPOA.
The following are Trump’s stated grievances, followed as necessary by a factual explanation of the grievances:
–Trump stated that Iran supports terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban:
FALSE: Iran is both ideologically and militarily an opponent of both groups and has been since their respective inceptions. Iran, furthermore, has been a victim of Takfiri terrorism.
–Trump expressed concern that Iran is developing ballistic missiles
True: However, Iran’s missile program is not a violation of the JCPOA in any way, shape or form. The United Nations even clarified this point as did the European Union.
Trump stated the the JCPOA’s sunset clause is reason enough for the US to consider it a bad deal
Logical Fail: This would imply that the US should want to extend the deal, not tear it apart and lose the confidence of Iran and other international partners
–Trump stated that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a terrorist group and will be sanctioned as such
False: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is one of the three main branches of Iran’s armed forces. Far from being a terrorist group, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been instrumental in fighting terrorism in Iraq and Syria.
What happens next for the United States:
As the European Union’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini correctly stated, Trump’s decision triggers a domestic legal mechanism which does not immediately trigger any change to the JCPOA’s status at an international level. Of course, the implications are very international and very dangerous, but this shall be addressed separately.
According to the unique mechanism that the US has created to monitor the JCPOA, a US President is responsible for certifying the deal’s legitimacy based on Iran’s alleged compliance or lack thereof, every 90 days. On the 15th of October, 2017, Trump will now formally de-certify the JCPOA at an Executive level.
This means that under the appliable laws, the JCPOA will now be debated in Congress. Congress can negate the deal which would lead to a formal US withdrawal, can attempt to impose further sanctions on Iran which could lead to Tehran calling the JCPOA null and void or the Congress could simply do nothing, meaning that the deal would stand unless Trump decides to use his executive power to formally withdraw the United States, something that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said, the US does not currently plan to do.
What happens next for Iran:
Iran has publicly indicated that if Washington withdraws from the JPCOA the deal with be null and void as a matter of fact. While such statements are highly serious, they are not technically official statements. They merely indicate Iran’s clear disgust with the United States and Donald Trump’s clearly anti-Iranian sentiments.
In reality there are three possibilities for Iran, many of which depend on the attitude and capablities of Iran’s other JCPOA partners.
1. Iran claims the deal to be null and void and begins to renegotiate new business deals with partners whose financial transactions are not dependant on the US Dollar. This would likely include Russia, China, Venezuela and very certainly Turkey as well. It could also include the EU, if as many EU figures have suggested, they would like to continue cooperating commercially with Iran irrespective of what the US does with the JCPOA.
2. The US formally withdraws from the JCPOA, but the deal remains in place with all the other parties to the deal including Europe. In this sense, the status quo would continue, only with the re-imposition of US sanctions.
Here, Europe would have to decide how much it is willing to do, in order to help Iran skirt US sanctions. In respect of Russia and China, there will be far fewer problems regarding skirting sanctions as both countries are becoming highly independent of Dollar based transactions and seek to further this process ever more rapidly.
3. The US formally withdraws from the JCPOA while Europe grudgingly follows along so as not to incur the wrath of the US which Europe is still largely dependent on in many respects. In such a scenario, Iran would focus almost all of its business endeavours on Russia, China and their partners, which still may well include neighbouring Turkey.
Iran’s President Rouhani spoke shortly after Donald Trump and offered a highly measured response to Trump’s aggressive rhetoric. After encouraging Trump and his fellow Washingtonians to learn more about Iran’s history, he indicated that Iran’s position on the JPCOA as of today, is similar to that of Europe.
“The EU and Iran must cooperate with each other to stand up to the destructive and improper moves concerning the JCPOA (the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
He continued, saying,
“The JCPOA is not negotiable at all and all sides must remain committed to their obligations under it and the US President or this country’s Congress must not be allowed to carry out a wrong measure against the JCPOA”.
What happens next for Europe:
The European Union’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini offered one of the most robust European rebuttals of a statement from a US President since Germany and France opposed George W. Bush’s war on Iraq in 2003. Crucially, in spite of Brexit talks, the UK government has aligned itself with mainstream European opinion over Iran, while in 2003, a deeply pro-European British leader, Tony Blair followed the US into Iraq.
Mogherini reminded journalists that Trump’s decision is a domestic one which effects the US Congress rather than the status of the JCPOA internationally. She also stated that United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 is the highest authority on the JCPOA and that no US President has the right to cancel a UN Resolution.
She affirmed Europe’s commitment to the JCPOA and Europe’s view that Iran is in full compliance with the deal. The words from both Brussels and Tehran would indicate that there is an increasing chance that the JCPOA could continue, even if the US formally withdraws or otherwise violates the deal in the eyes of the wider united international community.
Furthermore, Mogherini’s statement indicates that if the US either violates the JCPOA or formally withdraws (or both), that the US could be in violation of a UN resolution. While technically UNSC resolution 2231 is non-binding, the US could technically be named and shamed in the Security Council, should the three European countries with veto power decide to carry through with their robust support of the JCPOA.
What happens next for Russia:
Russia is not only a strong supporter of the JCPOA, but Russia and Iran have been enjoying historically good bilateral relations. In addition to multiple commercial ventures, Russia and Iran, along with Turkey formed the Astana Peace Group for Syria. Russia continues to cooperate with Iran against terrorism in Syria.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a statement saying,
“Russia remains committed to the JCPOA, is interested in preserving it, and will continue to fulfill its obligations under it. We call on all other participants to do the same”.
Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said,
“The task is to prevent the collapse of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we are calling on all sides to adhere to its statutes. We think that this agreement has large potential and should be fully implemented”.
As Russia is the closet partner to Iran, among all the parties to the JCPOA, Moscow and Tehran will almost certainly hold intensive talks to attempt to either salvage the JCPOA or come up with a backup proposal among willing partners.
Yesterday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel stated,
“It’s imperative that Europe sticks together on this issue. We also have to tell the Americans that their behaviour on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA”.
This statement indicates that Russia and China could work with Europe to either preserve a post-US JCPOA, convince the US to change its position on the JCPOA or else formulate a new similar proposal which excludes the United States.
What happens next for China:
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying spoke earlier today and said,
“China’s position on the Iranian nuclear issue has been consistent. The JCPOA has played a key role in upholding international nuclear non-proliferation regime and the peace and stability of the Middle East region. We hope that all relevant parties will continue to uphold and implement the JCPOA”.
China’s position, like that of Russia has been totally consistent towards Iran and what’s more is that China presents Iran and Iran’s wider region substantial economic opportunities via One Belt–One Road. If anything, today’s announcement will only galvanise further Sino-Iranian cooperation efforts.
Donald Trump’s administration has been plagued with allegations of colluding with a foreign government from the moment he entered office and even before. The allegations have been true only with the caveat that it is not Russia with whom Trump is colluding but instead, that place is Israel.
Donald Trump’s speech about Iran was in parts almost identical to the speech Israel leader Benjamin Netanyahu gave weeks ago before the UN General Assembly.
Furthermore, less than 24 hours prior to Trump’s speech, both the US and Israel withdrew their memberships of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) virtually simultaneously, in a clear sign of policy coordination that stinks of a concerted effort which is now being aimed directly at Iran.
In challenging the JCPOA so brazenly, Donald Trump has shown that he is willing to put an Israeli paranoia about Iran, a paranoia which frequently crosses a line into all out hate, above the interests of both his own country and that of America’s most loyal European allies.
The fate of the JCPOA is now in the hands of the other parties to the agreement, but for the United States, all credibility as a negotiating partner has been lost. This applies not only to Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela and China, but also to the European Union.
“America first”, has effectively become: America last.