Donald Trump and the Art of Trashing the Nuclear Deal

Members of Iranian armed forces march during a parade in Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2017. via REUTERS

U.S. policies meant to dismantle the nuclear deal will be seen parochial and partisan.

In comparison to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt have responded with greater political restraint. Both countries have found Iran’s growing regional influence disconcerting, despite that Ankara and Cairo have found themselves on different sides in the SCW. Iran and Turkey have shared an uneasy balance of power for decades, but that has been threatened by the former’s nuclear aspirations, extensive proxy forces and conventional buildup brought on by sanctions relief. On September 12, Turkish president Erdogan gave a nuanced statement on the consequences of “Persian expansionism” that also mentioned how Iranian efforts were crucial to stabilizing Iraq and Syria. Turkey remains a low proliferation risk in the near term, due to its privileged position as a NATO member and a beneficiary of the American nuclear security umbrella. Therefore, Ankara has an interest in seeing the JCPOA’s continued implementation, not only to suppress the impetus for regional proliferation by keeping Iran out of the nuclear club, but also because sanctions relief serves to grow its bilateral trade with Tehran.

For his part, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has avoided military involvement in the region’s tumultuous events, instead trying to foster internal stability at home and fighting ISIS in Sinai. As a secular military leader who came to power by ousting an Islamist government, Sisi has preferred stability and backed strongmen like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad over the chaotic forces that he sees engulfing the region. When the JCPOA was signed, Egypt accepted the outcome, but was forthcoming in its intention for reassessment if Iran reneged on its promises. As a leading member of the international Non-Aligned Movement, Egypt has long rallied for nuclear disarmament internationally and sought a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. Consequently, Egypt’s primarily interest is in the JCPOA succeeding, which is something that Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta emphasized to the Security Council in January. Nonetheless, that Aboulatta has also condemned Iranian regional arms trafficking as well as Tehran’s “interference in the affairs of Arab states” speaks to the growing Arab unease pertaining to Iran’s growing influence in its backyard.

President Trump’s decision to decertify Iranian compliance with the JCPOA will yield assured costs for uncertain benefits. Desiring a more stringent deal to deter Iran’s history of clandestine nuclear efforts and policies—which are anathema to U.S. interests—is a prudent endeavor, but this should be achieved from within the existing framework rather than from without. Notwithstanding the Trump administration, the international community will remain committed to the JCPOA as long as the IAEA continues to certify Iran’s compliance. Until these hard facts change, U.S. policies meant to dismantle the deal will be seen parochial and partisan. Those policies will undermine American credibility, reliability and influence rather than serve the country’s national-security interests.

Geoffrey Kemp is senior director for regional security at the Center for the National Interest. He served in the White House as Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs in the first Reagan Administration

Adam Lammon is a graduate student at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs and the Middle East, Climate, and Security Intern at the Center for the National Interest.

This article was originally prepared as a background paper for a Nuclear Security Working Group dinner on September 20, 2017.

Image: Members of Iranian armed forces march during a parade in Tehran, Iran, September 22, 2017. via REUTERS


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