The Iran deal
What is the Iran deal?
The Iran deal – or the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) to give it its full name – was signed by the US, Iran and five other powers in December 2015. It agreed to lift crippling economic sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to curb its nuclear programme and accepting a stringent programme of checks by international weapon inspectors.
Why didn’t Donald Trump like the deal?
Trump made it one of his main foreign policy campaign issues, describing it as the “worst deal ever” and vowing to abandon it. To some extent he was not alone – a wide swathe of Republicans, and indeed many Democrats, opposed the deal at the time it was signed, arguing that it unlocked cash for Iran without addressing broader concerns about Iran’s activity in the region. Barack Obama’s decision not to put a vote on the agreement to the US Senate – he knew he would not get the necessary two-thirds majority – angered many.
What were the Trump administration’s main issues with the deal?
Apart from the view that an agreement of this nature should never have been made with a hostile power like Iran, critics also highlighted Iran’s role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria and said the deal did not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme, and that some sites were off limits to weapons inspectors.
Was this week’s decision expected?
To some extent, yes. Trump laid the ground last October when he warned he would rescind the deal if changes weren’t made, though he reluctantly signed a waiver that lifted sanctions on Iran. When the waiver deadline fell again in January, he once again reluctantly signed. For the past few months, European allies have been trying to convince the US administration to change its mind, suggesting that a supplementary agreement could be worked out that would address American concerns without the need to tear up the existing agreement. But despite this diplomatic offensive, Trump followed through with his threat, re-imposing sanctions on Iran.
What has been the reaction from Tehran?
Some politicians burned the American flag and a copy of the agreement in the Iranian parliament in response. Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intoned: “Wait for the day when Trump is dead, his corpse is fed on by snakes and insects, but the system of the Islamic Republic will still be standing.” But there was more nuanced language from the government, with President Hassan Rouhani stating that Iran would begin negotiations with the other signatories to try to salvage the deal.
What has been the wider global reaction?
Israel and Saudi Arabia – two of America’s main allies in the region – strongly support Trump’s decision to withdraw, while Bahrain and United Arab Emirates are also in favour. But most of the rest of the global community is aghast. Their argument is that, while the deal was not perfect, under the terms of the agreement weapon inspectors had unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear activity, confirming that Iran had eliminated 95 per cent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.
What happens next?
The Trump administration has said it is willing to negotiate a new agreement with Iran, but this seems unlikely. European firms operating in Iran have been given grace periods of 90 and 180 days to wind down operation. Oil prices have been volatile amid expectations that Iran will have to significantly reduce output. In the long term, many wonder if this is the start of a new US strategy towards Iran. Trump’s recently appointed national security adviser John Bolton has previously spoken of his desire for regime change in Iran. For many, the parallels with the run-up to the Iraq war are worrying.
■ Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intoned: “Wait for the day when Trump is dead, his corpse is fed on by snakes and insects, but the system of the Islamic Republic will still be standing.” PHOTOGRAPH: AP