Although there is a long list of decisions where the US president Trump can be said to have acted rather whimsically, his decision to decertify the hard-earned Iran nuke deal certainly stands out as the stupidest decision he has taken so far in his presidency. Although it was expected to happen, there is no gainsaying that this decision, if it leads to scrapping the deal, would take the Middle East’s geo-political landscape back to the square one. It is this very eventuality that makes this decision bad enough for America. What makes this decision look even more irrational and bad is Iran’s measured response and its resolve to abide by the deal as long as Europe continues to adhere to it. What adds to this irrationality is the fact that it is Saudi Arabia and Israel, apart from Donald Trump, who have developed an extreme level of ‘Iranophobia’ and have been most blatant opponents of the deal ever since it was entered into. Again, it is this ‘Iranophobia’ that seems to have blinded the US president to what various US officials and international agencies have reported with regard to Iran’s absolute compliance with the deal’s requirements.
In other words, what truly makes decertification a stupid decision is that it is highly unlikely to serve American national interest. As it stands, it is Saudi Arabia and Israel rather than America who stand to gain the most out of (the possible) scrapping of the deal. It is perhaps for this reason that among the reasons given for decertification, not a single one relates even remotely to Iran’s possible violation of its terms. On the contrary, it is Iran’s regional policies (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen), which directly conflict with those of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US, prompting the US president to decertify the deal. The underlying reason for this is the fear in Iran’s rival countries that the deal is actually benefitting Iran and that Iran might increase its power at their own expense.
In other words, it is due largely to their inability to decrease and roll back Iran from Syria, Yemen and Iraq that has led to this half-scrapping of the deal. Otherwise there is no gainsaying that Iran has complied with the deal’s terms, and there are a number of evidences that support this fact.
For instance, the US State Department itself reported to the US House Speaker Paul Ryan in April 2017 that “Iran is compliant through April 18th with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” That Iran has been meeting all conditions set by the deal has also been verified by IAEA six times since January 2016. What is even more significant to note here is that the US’ major political, defence and intelligence officials have said that there has not been a single violation of the deal’s terms by Iran, confirming their intelligence reports that suggest that no breach has taken place. Even if there had occurred some violations, the outcome of these violations actually proved the accord’s efficacy: the IAEA quickly detected each and Iran remedied it accordingly. Even the US president hasn’t said a word about Iran breaching the deal’s terms. Instead his emphasis has been on Iran being a ‘sponsor’ of terrorism in the region—something that the US sees is due to Iran’s economic recovery after sanctions were lifted, and its ability to translate its re-gained economic wealth into direct and indirect military power.
Not only is this claim unfounded and a part of malicious Saudia-Israeli propaganda, but also self-contradictory. Iran has been on the forefront of war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, knowing very well that if these terror outfits are not defeated, their next target will very well be Iran. This is why Iran has even ‘wrecked’ its economy to fight this war. Certainly, Russia and China have helped Iran fight this war because of the high possibility of the US and Saudia funded Sunni jihad spreading its tentacles from Syria to East Asia, thus putting the Russia and China led programmes of Eurasian integration and New Silk Roads into serious jeopardy.
Decertification of the nuke-deal is, therefore, a step towards re-imposition of sanctions to prevent Iran’s economic recovery and restrict its ability to project power directly and indirectly in the Middle East. As such, while the relaxation of US, European Union and UN nuclear-related sanctions has allowed Iran to regain oil market share, recover billions in frozen assets and attract foreign direct investment, implementation of this part of the deal has been even more problematic. While Iran committed some violations and was accordingly corrected, violations committed by the US remain, to date, un-corrected. According to a report of International Crisis Group, “there have been more serious problems with sanctions relief. Iran still lacks normal international banking ties, as major financial institutions remain circumspect, hampering its reintegration into the global economy and dashing inflated public expectations of rapid economic recovery.”
As such, if there is one fundamental reason for the deal’s inability to reduce Iran-US enmity, it is the US’ inability to allow for Iran’s integration into global economy. Who could benefit from such restricted integration isn’t hard to guess. The Saudia-Israel nexus has not only accordingly welcomed the US’ tough talk on Tehran, but also speaking the same language and even using the same words vis-à-vis Iran and the deal.
Saudi Arabia welcomed what it called Trump’s “decisive strategy” towards Iran and said lifting sanctions had allowed Tehran to develop its ballistic missile programme, step up its support for militant groups including Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen, and attack global shipping lanes.
There is as such clearly a recipe of conflict that Trump is cooking. But the end product might just not help the US and its allies achieve their objectives. On the contrary, scrapping the deal might increase Iran’s regional clout as it might force it to pursue its strategic objectives even more vigorously, prompting its chief allies to increase their own presence in the region. This, however, might not happen on a grand scale—and immediately after the deal is scrapped— as long as Europe remains in the deal. And Europe is likely to remain in the deal because Iran has committed no violation, because Europe is leaping forward with investment in Iran and because Europe is not speaking, at least at this stage, the Saudi-Israeli language.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.