The United States Should Remain in the Iran Nuclear Agreement

The Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) urges President Trump to remain in the Iran nuclear agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of JCPOA) as we approach a key May 12th deadline to waive sanctions. While not perfect, the JCPOA is worth keeping because it has put the Iranian nuclear program on hold and prevented the Iranians from developing a nuclear weapon. President Trump has called the agreement “terrible” and believes it should never have been made.

The agreement restricts some Iranian nuclear activities for a period of years and allows for monitoring. More importantly, in exchange for relief of economic sanctions, it forbids Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have certified that Iran is in compliance.[1] Rather than criticizing the agreement for what it leaves out, we should use the time it affords to engage in negotiations on other disputed issues, such as the Iranian missile program and destabilizing regional activities. A US declaration of non-compliance would unify Iranian leaders against cooperation, end any Iranian interest in such talks and possibly lead to Iran’s resumption of its nuclear program. Reformist Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has called US demands for changes in the agreement “unacceptable”[2] and dismissed recent Israeli intelligence revelations as “old allegations” that have already been investigated and rejected by the IAEA.[3]

Another reason to keep the agreement is the possibility of negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear program. These negotiations make the continued adherence to the Iran pact more important than ever. Adherence to the JCPOA would demonstrate to North Korea that the US keeps its word. Although US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has argued that North Korean President Kim would not be influenced by a US withdrawal from the Iranian agreement,[4] North Korean officials have expressed concern that countries giving up nuclear programs have been vulnerable to external efforts to unseat their regimes. One North Korean official pointed out to US journalist Nicholas Kristof last year that Libya’s Muammar Qaddhafi and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein were ousted after giving up nuclear weapons. [5] A US decision to certify Iran as compliant with the pact would also serve to reassure US Asian allies, especially South Korea but also Japan and others, that the US will stand by any agreement reached with North Korea.

More broadly, rejecting existing agreements encourages other signatories to walk away from them and undercuts US allies who may now give less weight to US preferences when dealing with common adversaries. However, in the case of the JCPOA, US withdrawal may not scuttle the agreement as the European, Russian, and Chinese signatories may continue to abide by its terms. The Europeans announced recently that they would work to keep the agreement in place even if the US withdraws. However, if the US does not certify compliance and imposes sanctions then there is a real chance that the agreement could collapse and the Iranian nuclear program could resume. This would be a great defeat not only for nonproliferation, but for peacebuilding and international cooperation during a particularly turbulent time in the world.

[1] Statement by IAEA Director General Yukija Amano, Oct 13 2017, iaea.org, accessed Mar 20, 2018.

[2] Reuters, “Iran’s Zarif Says Trump Demands on Nuclear Deal Are Unacceptable,” NYT, April 28, 2018

[3] Reuters, “Trump is Jumping on Rehash of Old Allegations to ‘Nix’ Nuclear Deal: Zarif Tweets,” NYT< April 30, 2018

[4] Carol Morello, “Pompeo says Kim Jong Un doesn’t care if US leaves the Iran deal,” Washington Post, April 27.

[5] Nicholas Kristof, “How to Understand What’s Happening in North Korea,” NYT, April 27, 2018

Alliance for Peacebuilding is the leading global network working to end conflict and build sustainable peace worldwide. Our 145+ members work in 181 countries.

Alliance for Peacebuilding is the leading global network working to end conflict and build sustainable peace worldwide. Our 145+ members work in 181 countries.