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With the Iran nuclear deal gone, new paths to reform Iran are open

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“The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered.” — President Trump, May 8, 2018

On Tuesday, President Trump said he “will withdraw” the United States from the international nuclear deal with Iran and plans to reinstate economic sanctions against Tehran.

{mosads}Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is taking immediate action to implement the president’s decision. At the end of the wind-down periods, the applicable sanctions will come back into full effect. This includes actions under both our primary and secondary sanctions authorities.

The War over the Iran Deal

Two schools of thought have formed, in response to the president’s decision to sanction Iran. On one hand, former President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry represent a pushback against President Trump.

In reaction to Trump, Obama said, the current president’s decision to withdraw from the deal was “misguided.” Ahead of Trump’s announcement, Kerry cautioned that a “new arms race” was taking place and endangering other weapons reduction treaties.

On the other hand, the editorial board of Wall Street Journal echoed the president’s view. It wrote:

“Trump outlined a more realistic strategy in October, promising to work with allies to close the deal’s loopholes, address Tehran’s missile and weapons proliferation, and ‘deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.’”  


“The Obama Administration spent years negotiating a lopsided pact that gave Tehran $100 billion of sanctions relief and a chance to revive its nuclear-weapons program after a 15-year waiting period.”

The Back Story

United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union formed a political commitment with Iran in Geneva on July 14, 2015. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JPCOA), known as the Iran deal, was neither a treaty nor approved by Congress.

In exchange for Tehran agreeing to limit its nuclear capabilities, economic sanctions would be lifted. But the devil is in the details concerning a role for missiles on the nuclear side of and state sponsorship of terrorism on the sanctions relief side. President Obama front-loaded sanctions reprieve, so Iran received relief upfront, while compliance was to come later.

Although many countries have nuclear programs and at least eight possessed nuclear weapons when the nuclear deal with Iran came into force, it is so different that Tehran was singled out for sanctions by the UN, EU, and the USA. Why? Iran hid uranium enrichment facilities for almost two decades, in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The story behind the story is that Iran is not a normal state, rather, it is a revolutionary country. And Iran places continuation of the Islamic Revolution of 1979 as its top priority, at the expense of adhering to agreements. So, Iran cheats and only retreats temporarily and resumes cheating again, soonest.

Henry Kissinger is fond of saying Iran has yet to decide if it is a country or a cause — a normal state, or a revolutionary one.

Of course, Tehran acts like an ordinary one, with embassies abroad and suave diplomats who represent the state. But, the “Guardians of the Revolution,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, (IRGC) are the real state, because the IRGC holds the hard power in alignment with the supreme leader, and they leave the soft power to the president, foreign minister, and the parliament.

Now, consider some legal constraints, under which presidents operate, regarding Iran, since 2015.

Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015

Originally drafted to restrain Obama, INARA now operates to box-in Trump. Under INARA, which was passed to put additional oversight on the 2015 JCPOA, there were 90 days until each deadline for Trump to certify Iran’s compliance to Congress.

The Way Forward

Now that Washington has abandoned the accord, it is unclear what the Plan B is.

When the United States was in the deal, (Plan A), the third-year anniversary of the deal in mid-July might have addressed holes in the missile technology side of the nuclear deal equation; by contrast, it’s too late to fix holes in the sanctions relief, because Iran already has the money.

Now that Washington is on the outside, new steps might consist of pressuring the Iranian regime from within, e.g., by providing political and technological support to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), to facilitate their opposition to the Iranian regime.

Iran has a viable coalition of dissidents, which, might move the country away from dictatorship toward democracy. Before he became secretary of State, consider Mike Pompeo’s comments on how they open the door to regime change from within:

“(Iran’s government) is a theocratic regime that is looking backwards, instead of a regime that is looking forward to make the lives of their people better … It is my full expectation that you will see the Iranian people continue to revolt against this… These protests are not behind us.”

Bottom Line? Protests inside Iran might result in Iran being amenable to addressing holes in the deal, even though America is formally on the outside.

Raymond Tanter served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, personal representative of the secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @ProfRTanter.

Tags Barack Obama Donald Trump foreign relations Foreign relations of Iran Iran Iran–United States relations John Kerry Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Mike Pompeo Nuclear energy in Iran Nuclear program of Iran Nuclear proliferation Politics of Iran Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

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