By: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Sandeep Sachdeva
US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he would no longer sign-off on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) with Iran has further ratcheted up tensions between the two nations, to the dismay of many US allies and supporters who continue to be vocal in their support of the deal.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Trump’s latest announcement showed the US was becoming “more isolated than ever.”
“Can a president annul a multilateral treaty on its own?” he said, as reported by the BBC. “Apparently he doesn't know that this agreement is not a bilateral agreement solely between Iran and the United States.”
Trump’s criticism of Iran and the nuclear deal has been ongoing. During his maiden address at the United Nations General Assembly, he equated Iran with North Korea, reminding many of the “Axis of Evil” coined by Former Republican President, President George W. Bush, to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
It was predictable that Trump lambasted North Korea in his maiden general assembly speech, and that he was equally harsh on Iran.
He accused Iran of supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East. Stating that: “Iran [is] using its oil profits to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors.”
Trump went on to criticize the P5+1 Iran nuclear deal, which was signed during the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama. The JCPOA was signed by Tehran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) in 2015 and was dubbed one of the major accomplishments of former president Obama.
Trump dismissed the deal as being one sided: “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States.”
He went one to signal his intent to scrap or renegotiate it: “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.”
Japan, France and the UK were just some of the countries that voiced their continued support for the deal after Trump’s UN speech.
Of course, Tehran was quick to deny all of Trump’s allegations, with President Rouhani responding firmly. The usually measured Rouhani minced no words.
“Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the US President against the Iranian nation. Full of hatred and baseless allegations.”
He further called it “Unfit to be heard in the UN, which was established to promote peace." He cautioned the US that Iran “will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”
Support for Iran
Iran found support not only from China and Russia, but also from pro-US countries such as Japan. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov termed the deal "one of the more important factors of regional and international security.” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also voiced support for Tehran, saying that no agreement is perfect, but if the accord was discarded, the entire non-proliferation system would suffer.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during a meeting with President Rouhani, unequivocally extended Japan’s support for the 2015 agreement. It would be pertinent to point out that Japan is keen to explore potential investment opportunities in Iran, especially in petroleum and petro-chemical projects, where a bilateral treaty between the two came into force in April 2017.
Some 76 European leaders wrote an open letter urging Trump to stick with the agreement, saying: “This would damage not only US interests but US international standing and credibility.”
French president Emmanuel Macron dismissed Trump’s assertion on Iran in his UNGA address, saying that the nuclear deal was “essential for peace,” labeling its opponents “irresponsible.” He further emphasized that the best way is to work together to achieve common goals to overcome global challenges.
France has significant business interests in Iran. Bpifrance, the country’s state investment bank, will finance investment projects of French companies in Iran from 2018, granting up to 500 million euros ($598 million) in annual credit.
“The British government has also made it absolutely clear that it sees the JCPOA as important, it thinks the JCPOA should continue," Norman Lamont, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Member of Parliament.
It would be pertinent to point out that the UK strengthened its economic ties with Iran in a solar deal worth $720 less than a day after Trump called the Persian Gulf nation a "rogue state" and a threat to global security. The UK's trade with Iran rose 42 per cent from January to October in 2016 and 57 per cent in the same period in 2017, according to Lamont. Global trade with Iran rose 13 per cent last year to $113 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
It is not prudent to club North Korea and Iran together in the same category and judge them by the same yardstick. Unlike North Korea, Iran has engaged with the world on its nuclear program, not only halting it, but also devising a mutually accepted solution in the form of the JCPOA.
Iran has complied with the agreement fully, even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking also at the UN, conceded that Iran “is in technical compliance with the agreement.” The International Atomic Energy Agency—which the deal gave extensive inspection rights of Iran’s facilities—has concluded repeatedly that the Iranians are in compliance.
Trump’s excessive belligerence vis-à-vis Iran will not only adversely impact the economic interests of other countries, but a number of US companies too. It will also weaken the leadership of the relatively moderate Rouhani, who is willing to engage with the outside world.
Trump will hopefully realize the folly of isolating Iran and equating it with North Korea, otherwise he risks annoying a number of his allies.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.
Sandeep Sachdeva is an Independent Policy Analyst.