The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – commonly known as the Iran nuclear agreement – was finalized in Vienna in July 2015. In what may have been the greatest foreign policy achievement in a generation, China, the European Union, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, reached an agreement that blocked Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb and prevented a new war in the Middle East. This landmark agreement was reached in exchange for a waiver of nuclear-related sanctions. Iran's compliance has been repeatedly verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees the most intrusive inspections regime ever negotiated. If Iran violates the deal, there is a rigorous IAEA process for bringing them back into compliance.
Since its inception, there have been endless attacks on the agreement. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump was a fierce critic of the JCPOA, and pledged to ‘tear it up’ if elected. As president, he has attempted to undermine the agreement at every turn. In October 2017, President Trump failed to certify the agreement, declaring it to be not in the national security interests of the United States. Certification is not required under the international agreement, but rather by a US law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). Under INARA, failure to certify initiates a 60-day window in which Congress can re-impose nuclear related sanctions on Iran with a majority vote. In this instance, Congress chose not to re-impose sanctions. It would have been a clear violation of US obligations under the international agreement, while Iran was in compliance, and could have led to the collapse of the agreement.
Between January 12 and 20, President Trump again faced this certification window, and had to decide whether or not to continue waiving the nuclear-related sanctions covered by the agreement. He chose not to re‑impose these nuclear-related sanctions, and decided not to violate the terms of the agreement. Instead, he has asked Congress to amend INARA to include specific "trigger points" related to Iranian nuclear- and missile-related activities. If breached, these so-called "trigger points" would re-impose some sanctions, even though Iran remains in compliance with its commitments under the international deal that was reached in 2015.
More broadly, President Trump gave the US Congress and our European allies an ultimatum – "fix" the agreement, with the threat to 'rip it up' should they not do so by the time the next sanctions waivers are due on May 12, 2018. Unfortunately, President Trump has set impossibly high, completely unreasonable requirements. Experts such as Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association have pointed out that there is no way to satisfy his concerns and remain in compliance with the deal. This raises 3 questions, none of which have clear or satisfying answers:
- Will the US Congress pass legislative "fixes" which violate the agreement?
- Would legislative "fixes" that do not violate the agreement be acceptable to President Trump?
- And even if proposed fixes are acceptable to President Trump, will he move the goal posts, and continue to threaten the deal and demand concession from Congress and our European allies?
Fortunately, US lawmakers who support the agreement are showing solidarity with key European nations, who strongly support the US abiding by its commitments under the deal. The president’s disdain for his predecessor’s signature foreign policy achievement may not be able to overcome the fact that it is working as intended. Iran has halted its nuclear program, and the US State Department, the US intelligence community and the IAEA have all acknowledged Iran's compliance with the JCPOA. Recent polling suggests that a majority (54%) of Americans also support the Iran nuclear agreement. A plurality disapproves of Trump’s handling of JCPOA. 45% disapprove and only 24% approve.
Promisingly, many elected officials who were previously fierce critics of the deal have come to support it. Prominent Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Bob Corker and Rand Paul have advised against taking any action to sabotage the agreement, warning that doing so would greatly harm the United States’ international credibility and curtail its ability to negotiate with other countries, such as North Korea.
Ploughshares Fund is mobilizing the brightest minds with the best ideas to defend this historic accord. Grantees such as VoteVets, National Iranian American Council, J Street, and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation are working to support the JCPOA through media outreach, public advocacy and education of US policymakers on the benefits of the agreement. Ploughshares Fund is proud to support their work.
The Iran nuclear agreement is hanging by a thread, but that thread has not broken. We are working hard to stop attempts to sabotage the agreement, which took 7 nations, plus the European Union, 12 years to construct. The JCPOA must be preserved and defended. Nuclear proliferation, a regional nuclear arms race, and new war in the Middle East are things which must be prevented in order to create the safer future we all want to see – a world without the threat of nuclear weapons. With your support, we can move towards such a world, while preventing nuclear catastrophe along the way.
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The #IranDeal is still stopping a bomb and a war in the Middle East. We can't afford to lose it.
Photo: Scenes from a training exercise. IAEA Safeguard inspector and trainer Ms. Perpetua Rodriguez briefs IAEA Safeguards trainees at the Reactor Hall of the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant (NPP). The aim of the comprehensive inspection exercise was to train IAEA Safeguard inspectors in real-life scenarios. The exercise took place at Slovakia's Mochovce NPP on 17-21 January 2005. Photo Credit: Dean Calma / IAEA. Flickr (cc) / IAEA Imagebank