Managing Iran: A Path Forward With the Iran Nuclear Deal

On January 12th, United States President Donald Trump decided to waive sanctions on Iran in accordance to the Iran Nuclear deal instituted by former President Barack Obama, but reiterated his disdain for the deal and his plans to pull out if the deal is not renegotiated. “ Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal,” he stated. "Instead, I have outlined two possible paths forward: either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”

Trump will again be faced with the decision to withdraw from the deal in May, and as the date nears, sources from the White House say it is likely the U.S. withdraws as the E.U. is not inclined to renegotiate a supplemental deal. If Trump does go through and withdraws from the Nuclear deal, it will have multiple devastating impacts that will damage U.S. interests in the Middle East and across the globe.

Before going into how Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will negatively impact American interests and the situation in the Middle East, it is important to acknowledge that Trump is partially right as pertains to the agreement. The “deal”, as it stands, is incredibly flawed. While Iran has massively reduced its enriched uranium and spinning centrifuges, important components to building a nuclear arsenal. in exchange for the lifting of many Western sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy, the current understanding only restricts Iran’s possession of these materials for ten to fifteen years.

After ten to fifteen years, Iran will be able to return to the brink of attaining a nuclear weapon, this time with a much stronger economy and influence in the Middle East. Obama underestimated Iran’s desire to obtain regional hegemony in the Middle
East, as Iran has continued to increase its presence in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, and has continued its uncompromising hateful rhetoric against the U.S.and its allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The deal has opened up Iran to 100 billion dollars in assets, money that is used to fund terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and that supports its allies in Syria, propping up the dictator Hafez al-Assad. Actions that has placed the U.S. and its allies at
risk and has increased Iran’s standing in the region. Many believe, especially within the Israeli and Saudi governments, that Iran will move forward with its nuclear ambitions with even stronger influence following the ten to fifteen year break, jeopardizing the safety of the Western world.

While the deal is far from perfect, walking away from the agreement without international support will lead to even more tragic results. Backing out of the deal will surely lead to immediate conflict between Iran and the West, and since the European countries are adamant on keeping the arrangement in place, they will be disinclined to support the U.S. in a conflict with Iran. Europe, Russia, India, Japan and China will be unlikely to support reinstatement of sanctions on Iran, potentially giving Iran considerable support from the international community in its struggle with the United States.

Additionally, Obama accepted the deal in part to demonstrate the people of Iran that collaborating with the West is within their interests. Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been the most collaborative Iranian leader with the West since Iran’s revolution, and has sparked hope amongst many in the west that Iran is capable of dropping its anti-western rhetoric and adopting a more western oriented and compromising foreign policy in the future.

The Iranian public has voted strongly for moderate leaning candidates in the past elections, most notably in the 2016 election for the assembly of experts. The assembly of experts will be tasked with appointing the next supreme leader of Iran, which should be soon as current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is 78 years old. With the current assembly’s makeup, it is likely that they will appoint a more moderate Supreme Leader that potentially will be more compromising with the West.

However, if Trump goes through and pulls out of the “deal”, Iran’s populace may swing back to the far right, eliminating the possibility of sustainable peace between Iran and the West. Iran’s population will believe that the West is committed to undermining them, and therefore must elect leaders that are determined to pursue endless conflict, and eventually war with the the West.

The next elections for the assembly of experts takes place in 2024, and while that is still far away, Khamenei may not live through that time period, and Iran’s populace may elect uncompromising officials that will appoint a Supreme Leader who may continue hostilities with the West, and will move forward with their nuclear ambitions, making compromise impossible. In this scenario, either Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon or the West will be forced into a war that may cost millions of lives. Instead of abrogating the deal, the Trump administration should focus on other mechanisms to curb Iran’s aggressive behavior, and give power to Iranians seeking
better relations with the west. Working with allies to confirm Iran is keeping its end of the agreement, promoting security ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and collaborating with European countries to put more pressure on Iran in other ways (as they have been open to doing) to curb Iran’s aggressive behavior and to suppress Iranian proxies Middle East will do more to effectively pressure Iran while maintaining support of our allies. The United States needs to develop a plan on how they can prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon after the agreement expires, and take bold diplomatic approaches to achieve these efforts.

Additionally, Trump should focus on encouraging those in Iran that are seeking liberal reforms and better relations with the West. The United States can work through back channels to assist Iranian activists that challenge the regime and help spread their message throughout the country, specifically by improving their access to internet. Many Iranians are tired of the economic and political corruption that has plagued Iran’s current political process. Donald Trump will be well served to spread the message that Iran is better off ditching their uncompromising hostility towards the West and making clear the consequences of continuing its current path and the tremendous benefits that can be gained by a detente with the West.

The Iranian public will hopefully then continue to vote for more moderate candidates, and decrease the possibility of Iran moving forward with its nuclear ambitions at the agreement’s sunset. Enabling these protesters, while also maintaining and adopting strict policies to curb Iran’s aggressive behavior and assuring Iran’s continued compliance with the 2015 understanding, is the best path forward to ensure that Iran stays in check and a devastating war is avoided.

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