With his now well-known bravado, American President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the hard-won 2015 nuclear agreement between the international community and Iran last Tuesday. At the same time, he reinstated suspended economic sanctions against the country and suggested even tougher regulations on the horizon. According to Trump, there was “definitive proof” that Iran did not comply with the agreements, though he did not go into further detail about that evidence.
Intensive efforts by other international leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, to persuade Trump to refrain from withdrawing from the agreement have not helped. A new, dangerous phase of Trump’s “America First” principle-based agenda has now been reached. His decision is nothing more than a middle finger raised to the rest of the world. It was, after all, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, joined by Germany and the European Union, who negotiated the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran three years ago.
That was when Barack Obama was still president of the United States. In a remarkably sharp-toned statement on Facebook, he strongly criticized the action taken by his successor. Point by point, Obama dissected the rhetoric Trump has used to mischaracterize the nuclear agreement. Obama’s final conclusion was that the ability to counter the destabilizing behavior of Iran is strengthened with the agreement and weakened without it. This prediction has been immediately proven true in recent days by reports of failed Iranian rocket attacks on Israel from Syria.
Was it a perfect agreement that was reached in Vienna on July 14, 2015? No. Was it an effective agreement? Yes. But, above all, it was a very necessary and desired agreement. Iran was engaged in the uncontrolled and unlimited buildup of an extremely disconcerting nuclear program and thus threatened to become a serious nuclear power — the last thing the explosive region needed. This severe threat was eliminated by the detailed agreements in the accord and the monitoring role assigned to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
President Trump declared that he wants a better agreement, but he will not get that through a unilateral withdrawal. By doing that, he only creates discord with the other major powers that have worked on the agreement since 2013. It was sensible that British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on behalf of three European signatories to the agreement, stated immediately following Trump’s decision that they wish to continue cooperating with all remaining parties to comply with the agreement. But whether this sentiment also pertains in Iran remains to be seen. The conservative forces that were previously against the agreement can prepare themselves for a rematch, which may have serious implications for the reform-oriented movement in the country.
As is often the case with Trump’s ostensibly resolute decisions, it is once again unclear what the consequences of the reinstatement and expansion of the sanctions against Iran will be. It has been suggested that non-American companies that do business with Iran will also be penalized, but whether the United States will really go that far, and just how it might do so, remains to be seen.
In any case, there is no doubt that the United States – in the wake of its earlier withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – has, once again, further distanced itself from the international community this week. And that is more than worrisome.
Until now, Europe’s diplomatic response to Trump’s actions has been that perhaps it would all turn out better than expected in practice. It’s not working out that way, however, and Europe must duly take this into account. The Atlantic ally is no longer an obvious ally. Europe will have to do it alone. But, then, Europe must also be capable of doing so.
In the Commentary section, NRC weighs in on important news. The commentators write these articles in cooperation with the editorial board.