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Annulling the Iran deal: a dangerous strategic mistake

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Friday, 6 October 2017


The concern that Iran will pursue the development of nuclear weapons once the current Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal expires in ten years is legitimate. But addressing these concerns cannot be achieved by nullifying the current agreement, which would only strengthen Iran's resolve to acquire nuclear weapons.

Instead, the US and its allies (along with Russia and China) should build on the existing deal so that once it expires, Iran would not simply rush to acquire nuclear weapons but weigh the benefits of not pursuing nuclear weapons against any strategic advantage it could potentially reap by acquiring such an arsenal.

This does not guarantee that Iran will give up its ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. It does, however, offer the international community the time and opportunity to provide Iran with the incentives and prospect of becoming an active, constructive, and respected member of the community of nations, should it remain a nuclear-free country.

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In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump stated that "The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the US, and I don't think you've heard the last of it."

The problem is that Trump is determined to simply undo every piece of legislation passed or executive order issued during President Obama's tenure, regardless of merit, utility, or effectiveness. Sadly, the JCPOA is no exception. Nullifying it, instead of certifying that Iran has and continues to fully comply with all aspects of the deal, will precipitate dangerous regional and international repercussions, obviously beyond what Trump is capable of contemplating.

The Iranian public was demanding relief from the sanctions before the deal was struck, and the government was under intense pressure to resolve the nuclear problem with the US in order to lift the sanctions and alleviate the public's economic hardship. Now that the government is fully complying with the terms of the deal, the Iranian public will support their government's position even if they suffer greatly from the imposition of harsh new sanctions. This suggests that the US cannot count on the Iranians' future public discontent to pressure their government to negotiate a new deal.

Once the deal is nullified, Iran will be free to resume its nuclear program in defiance of the international community (especially because much of its nuclear facilities are still in place), which will inescapably lead to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East-exactly what the US wants to avoid. Trump's presumption that he could negotiate a better deal does not hold water. He has yet to demonstrate his so-called negotiating skills when he failed miserably to negotiate even with his own party to pass a new healthcare bill. Moreover, given that Iran is in full compliance, it will categorically refuse to negotiate a new deal.

The cancellation of the deal will also severely undermine the US' credibility, especially at this juncture, when the US is trying to find a way to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons. North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un will have no reason to trust Trump. To stop expanding his nuclear arsenal, on which he believes his country's survival hangs, he needs assurances that the US is negotiating in good faith-reneging on the nuclear deal will make any prospective negotiations with North Korea to reach a sustainable agreement much harder to conduct.

The US' allies France, Germany, and Britain-along with Russia and China, who are signatories to the deal-are sternly objecting to the nullification of the deal and will not support the imposition of new sanctions. Moreover, abandoning the deal will leave the US completely isolated, undermine global security, and strain its relationship with allies, which are already under mounting stress because of Trump's unseemly and erratic behavior.

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Should the deal be nullified and Iran end up with nuclear weapons, it will significantly boost its regional sway and further advance its ambition to become the region's hegemon, which will allow it to bully its neighbors. Moreover, it will intensify the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, prolong the proxy Sunni-Shiite war in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and further entrench Iran throughout the crescent between the Gulf and the Mediterranean.

It will hinder the US' effort to fight violent Islamic extremism as Iran will be far more vested in supporting extremist groups, funding terrorism, and destabilizing the region wherever and whenever it suits its needs. In addition, Iran will aggressively pursue its missile program and will not be deterred by new American sanctions, which have been a critical tool in pressuring Iran in the past.

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, the lone ranger who is foolishly pushing Trump to cancel the deal, seems to be completely out of touch about the implications of such an unwise act on Israel's national security. Nullifying the deal will be to Israel's terrible disadvantage, as Iran will put the development of nuclear weapons on a fast track. Based on all estimates, Iran would be able to test a nuclear weapon within a year.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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