Trump and the Iran deal: the end of American global leadership?

By Tom Spencer

Trump’s decision to refuse to sign off on the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal has provoked mass condemnation from Iran, long-term allies of the United States and other signatories of the agreement. But what exactly are the geopolitical and diplomatic implications of such a decision?

The deal, otherwise known as the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action’, was signed between the US, China, Russia, the EU and the United Kingdom in 2015, and was viewed as President Obama’s landmark foreign policy achievement. In exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Iranian officials agreed to heavily curtail their nation’s nuclear program, allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency regular inspections of their facilities and blocking Iran’s path to a bomb before at least 2025. A key feature of the terms was that the incumbent US President had to sign off on the deal every 90 days. By failing to do so, Trump has emphatically rejected Obama’s relative détente with the Islamic Republic, dubbing Iran a “Terrorist nation like few others”.

Yet this may prove to be a short-sighted action for the now beleaguered Commander-in-Chief. Sanctions imposed by the US, EU and the UN for the Republic’s uranium enrichment activities had come to devastate Iran’s economy. This had in turn, entrenched the position of hardliners within the Iranian government, the most vociferous advocates of nuclear development. By signing this multilateral agreement and lifting such sanctions, however, President Rouhani succeeded in giving Iran access to more than $100 bn worth of frozen, overseas assets, paving the way for foreign investment into the country and bolstering his reformist agenda. After his re-election in May by a considerable margin, many in Iran and around the world had begun to hope for a more open, prosperous future, in a country blighted by economic stagnation.

This will inevitably empower such hardliners. The notion of dichotomy will be strengthened and the possibility of dialogue could comprehensively evaporate. Indeed, editor of the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper in Iran, Hossein Shariatmadari, told CNN reporters yesterday that Trump’s decertification of the deal “has done us a great service”.

The Iranian Nuclear Deal, however, may yet survive. European allies such as France, Germany and Britain expressed in a joint declaration their unflinching support for the deal and its “Full implementation by all sides”. EU leaders are even seeking to bypass Trump. Federica Mogherini, Brussels’ foreign policy chief, claimed that “It is not a bilateral agreement…it is a multilateral agreement that was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council”.  Meanwhile, both Moscow and Beijing condemned the US President’s repudiation of the deal. For example, Putin’s spokesman Dimitry Peskov claimed that such a course of action would “seriously aggravate the Iranian nuclear dossier”.

In spite of global condemnation, such a move nonetheless marks an irrevocable shift in American and international diplomacy as a whole. President Obama’s strategy to deal with the Iranian threat to US interests in the Middle East piece-by-piece through dialogue has come to an end. It is now abundantly clear that Trump will favour escalation in a region already fraught with tension in lieu of Obama’s methods.

Yet this episode will come to reveal far more about where we stand in the history of diplomatic relations. It would now appear that to the rest of the world, the United States’ days as the rational global leader have all but slipped into the murky abyss. The question that lingers is who or what will claim such a mantle, or is the kind of “G Zero World” that many in Washington feared, here to stay?

Image: SS&SS via Flickr

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