Don't Trash the Iran Deal; Build on It.
And as we move closer to the day when provisions of the JCPOA start to sunset Iran should be required to ratify and properly implement the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) additional protocol and genuinely try to address all of the IAEA requirements necessary for the IAEA to reach a broader conclusion to the effect that its nuclear program is now inherently peaceful. Iran should also be pressed to accede to a number of other treaties or conventions that all other countries with purely peaceful nuclear programs have ratified and implemented. Any failure to meet these benchmarks by the time key provisions of the JCPOA start to expire should be a serious cause for concern and would certainly help increase pressure internationally instead of just letting key limitations on Iran’s nuclear program come off.
As it both sets positive conditions outside the deal and increases pressure on Iran, the United States should eventually look to negotiate a follow-on agreement, which would keep the current restrictions in place. This will not be easy and pressure will not be enough. To secure a positive outcome the United States and its partners will also have to offer incentives such as trade and investments (including by U.S. companies), nonlethal equipment transfers, peaceful nuclear cooperation and other aspects of normalized relations.
Given how difficult and time-consuming negotiations with Iran are going to prove even under the best of circumstances, early (and secret) development of an elaborate strategy for exercising all of the aforementioned options to address the sunset predicament would be indispensable and that is where the Trump administration would be well advised to start now and where Congress should press to move towards. The good news is that as we get closer to the day when these limitations expire, our international partners are likely to become more concerned about them giving the United States a greater opportunity to negotiate a better outcome or if that fails to reimpose sanctions with greater international support.
The reality is that like every product of tough multilateral diplomatic negotiations, the nuclear agreement with Iran is far from perfect. But walking away now from an agreement that is successfully constraining Iran’s nuclear program today merely because of a fear of a crisis down the road is folly. We may get there eventually. But there are far better options to seek and the JCPOA accords us abundant time to explore them in the interim.
Ariel (Eli) Levite is a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ilan Goldenberg is the Director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. They are two of the contributors to an upcoming Carnegie Endowment CNAS report on U.S. strategy towards Iran.