President Trump is about to take action that will withdraw the United States from the “Iran Nuclear Deal”. On October 15, Trump will reportedly “decertify” American participation in this historical agreement. This action is dangerous. This action will endanger the world. It will erode American credibility with both allies and enemies, and will destabilize the Middle East by worsening relations with Iran.
Moreover, Trump will throw the dirty work of withdrawing to Congress.
The “(de-)certification process” has nothing to do with the 2014 “Iran Nuclear Deal,” more formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump’s incipient withdrawal action rather stems from an American legislative act, House Resolution 1191—The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. This act was forced on President Obama by an overwhelming vote in the GOP-led Congress. He reluctantly signed this Act to avoid the embarrassment of a veto override, which would definitely have occurred. It is possible that he anticipated that Hilary Clinton would be elected President, thus making the possibility of decertification unlikely.
There is no factual justification for Trump’s “decertification.” The JCPOA was a clearly drawn agreement in which economic sanctions against Iran would be withdrawn in return for Iran’s curtailment of its nuclear energy program. It has worked remarkably well. Every governmental body both in the United States and among the other five nations who were party to the treaty—Great Britain, France, Germany, Russian and China—has repeatedly declared that Iran has adhered scrupulously to their responsibilities under the JCPOA. However, Trump appears not to care that Iran is in compliance, because the Congressional Act gives him a free hand to ignore Iran’s compliance.
H.R. 1191 requires the President to certify that the JCPOA is in the United States’ “national interest.” This certification has nothing to do with the JCPOA itself. The perfidious nature of H.R. 1191 is that it allows the President to utterly ignore the JCPOA’s provisions. The Congressional act allows him to justify decertification by citing issues that have nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program. These consist of Iran’s testing of conventional missiles, Iran’s human rights record, and a host of things that Iran detractors such as Bush-era neoconservatives and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been harping on for years.
One of Trump’s “concerns” has to do with the inspection of Iran’s non-nuclear military facilities. The JCPOA is based on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which the United States, Iran and approximately every other nation in the world are signatories (but not Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea, and South Sudan).
Under the NPT the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is charged with inspecting Iran’s (and every other nation’s) NUCLEAR facilities, or facilities that will contain fissile material within 180 days. Under the JCPOA the IAEA can only inspect non-nuclear facilities if they are suspected of harboring nuclear activities.
U.S. United Nations Ambassador, Nikki Haley, met with the IAEA officials on August 23 to review Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA provisions. At that time, she was unable to identify a single military site for IAEA inspection. In fact, Iranian officials have allowed inspection of every identified site. The charge that they have not is false.
After Trump’s decertification the responsibility for re-imposition of sanctions against Iran would then fall to the U.S. Congress. It would have to decide whether to do this within sixty days. The chances that Congress would do this are very great given the overwhelming vote for H.R. 1191. In this way, President Trump can claim that he has not personally actually withdrawn from the JCPOA. Americans who are concerned about this need to contact their Congressional representatives.
Nevertheless, Iran will not see it this way. Iran’s President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif have already announced that this Congressional action would be an abrogation of the JCPOA—as indeed it is.
William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years.