By Rhys Thomas
US President Donald Trump has announced that he will not be recertifying the Iranian nuclear deal (formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), but stopped short of wholly withdrawing from the agreement. The deal needs to be recertified by the President every ninety days as required by Congress, and Trump has done so twice already. However, he refused to do so a third time, stating “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
The President is seeking tougher sanctions on Iran’s missile program and the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps who he accuses of fomenting crisis in the Middle East. His concern, shared by many Republicans, is that Iran continues on the path to developing a nuclear weapon and benefits from a stronger economy which can be used to increase the country’s military strength and influence in the region.
In 2015 an agreement was reached between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, United States, plus Germany) to give Iran relief from economic sanctions as long as their nuclear program could be subject to limits and regular inspections.
Trump’s position has come under fire from many sides, including from allies who signed up to the Iran deal. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May all signed a joint declaration in response to Trump’s actions, reaffirming their support for the deal and concern about possible American withdrawal. Macron has also spoken of his personal interactions with Trump about the latter’s ramping up of tensions with Iran, saying “I told him I thought this was the wrong approach, because we have to look where we are now with Korea”.
It is now up to Congress to decide what happens next, along with fellow signatories to the deal. Many congressional Republicans will agree with Trump that Iran needs to be treated more harshly – after all, the Iran deal was one of their party’s main points of vitriol against Barack Obama. Trump stated “In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated. It is under continuous review and our participation can be cancelled by me, as president, at any time.” An American exit could well lead to escalation in several areas. Iran might react aggressively – they have already stated their intent not to renegotiate a deal. In addition it is unlikely that European allies would support the United States. The Europeans would be much keener to see Iran uphold their side of the deal in spite of US withdrawal, and likely would keep doing business with the Islamic Republic. Military actions are not as likely but cannot be ruled out.