The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal – risks coming apart after President Donald J. Trump announced the United States would no longer back the agreement, prompting criticism from Iran and threatening a diplomatic rift with three key U.S. allies who still support the deal.
Shortly after Trump’s announcement on May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government remains in favor of a nuclear deal with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union – signatories to the JCPOA, signed in 2015 – but that it’s also ready to start enriching uranium if the deal offers no benefits (The Washington Post).
European leaders and diplomats have expressed support for upholding the nuclear deal. In a joint statement, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement.”
High-ranking European diplomats criticized Trump’s handling of the situation. French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was “a break with international commitment and France deeply regrets this decision.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the UK has “no intention of walking away” and said it was up to Trump to secure a new deal.
Conservative Iranian lawmakers gathered in the country’s parliament burned a copy of the deal, as well as a paper U.S. flag (CNN). Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also expressed doubt as to whether the deal can live on without U.S. involvement (CNN).
On March 8, Trump announced the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
“The Iran deal is defective at its core,” Trump said, reading from a prepared statement in slow, measured tones inside the White House.
Following Trump’s announcement, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed that U.S. sanctions on Iran will be re-imposed over 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods. The U.S will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal as soon as sanctions are reapplied.
Trump had long opposed the diplomatic agreement established under the administration of President Barack Obama. He called the JCPOA the “worst deal in history” during the 2016 presidential campaign, and repeatedly threatened to leave the agreement once elected unless changes were made.
Following the announcement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran will remain in JCPOA as long as the other countries honored its framework, despite Iran’s previous pledge to leave the agreement if the U.S. did so first.
What is the Iran nuclear deal?
The Iran nuclear deal is an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program reached in 2015 between Iran, the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union. The agreement stipulates Iran will eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges over a period of 13 years. In return for verifiably abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from the United States, European Union, and United Nations Security Council nuclear-related economic sanctions.
As a presidential candidate, Trump vehemently and regularly criticized the deal as one-sided, in favor of Iran. In announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, he characterized reversing the United States’ obligations under the deal as keeping a promise.
Trump spent most of the approximately 11-minute statement bitterly criticizing the Iranian government and deriding the deal agreed to by the Obama administration, which he referred to as “the previous administration.”
“The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror,” Trump said. He said the Iranian government was responsible for “sinister activities in Syria, Yemen, and other places all around the world.”
He called the original JCPOA “rotten” and “an embarrassment” and said it had failed to curtail Iranian ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.
“Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon,” Trump said.
He ended his statement by calling for “a lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat.” Trump also appealed to the Iranian people, saying the American public is allied with them in a desire for “peace and stability” in the Middle East.
Supporters of U.S. withdraw
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal (PBS).
- Netanyahu, and other members of his Likud Party, have fiercely criticized the Iran nuclear deal.
- Netanyahu claims that the JCPOA doesn’t prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. In a televised announcement, Netanyahu claimed that Israeli intelligence uncovered documents proving Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons. The documents, however, all pre-dated the JCPOA (CNBC).
- While many provisions in the Iran nuclear deal will expire as soon as 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency has found no evidence the Iranian government is currently developing the fissile material needed to develop nuclear weapons.
- Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said it supports U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which it says allowed Iran to destabilize and exert control over the Middle East.
- The Saudi government has opposed the Iran nuclear deal dating to its ratification under the Obama Administration. It is concerned that lifting economic sanctions will strengthen the world’s largest Shiite Muslim country, and Saudi Arabia’s main regional foe (CBSNews).
- Since international sanctions began being lifted in 2015, Iran has expanded military operations, primarily in Syria where it has helped keep the Syrian government in power (New York Times). Saudi Arabia and Israel have increased their diplomatic ties in light of what they see as increased Iranian aggression.
United Arab Emirates
- Reuters reported that the UAE government joins its regional ally Saudi Arabia in supporting Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Opposition to U.S. withdraw
U.S. Democratic leaders … and some Republicans
- Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the agreement brought immediate criticism from Democratic Party leaders. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the move would cost the U.S. “international credibility.” According to NBC News, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan “suggested that he, too, would have preferred modifying the agreement.”
- French President Emmanuel Macron visited Washington D.C. on April 22 with the explicit goal of getting Trump to reconsider his position on the Iran nuclear deal.
- UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she believes the Iran nuclear deal offered the most effective way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel supports preserving the JCPOA, but urged the deal to be renegotiated as Trump deliberated pulling out of the agreement.
Many Israeli generals
- Former Israeli Major General Amos Gilad told a Haaretz journalist that an end to JCPOA would make Israel less safe. He cited Russia, China, and the European Union’s continued support for the deal as evidence that Iran will not return to isolation.