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What you Need to Know About Trump and the Nuclear Deal

May 8, 2018
6 min read
What you Need to Know About Trump and the Nuclear Deal

President Donald Trump is due to announce whether he will continue the waiver on sanctions against Iran that began when the nuclear deal — officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — was implemented. He will make a further decision on other sanctions in July. 

The JCPOA was passed in July 2015 after several rounds of talks between Iran and world leaders from the United States, France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and Germany. 

Under the agreement, Iranian leaders agreed to curtail the production of enriched uranium for 15 years. It shut down most of its nuclear production facilities and ensured the majority of its stored uranium was transported out of the country. 

The JCPOA has always had fierce critics both inside and outside of Iran, and Donald Trump’s promises to dismantle the deal became one of his most memorable campaign pledges in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. 


The Sanctions Trump will Talk About

President Trump’s announcement will be about a group of sanctions that directly impacts Iran’s oil business. Originally, a law was in place that reduced the number of countries that could import Iranian oil. US sanctions were placed on banks and financial institutions that did not comply with these reductions and phase out the practice of importing Iranian oil. These sanctions could be revived, though Trump is unlikely to go into detail about the specifics about how his administration will deal with the legal complexities that will pertain to individuals, governments and business that do import Iranian oil or deal with Iran in ways that contravene the rules of the sanctions. 

The US classified sanctions against Iran in two ways: primary and secondary sanctions. 

Primary sanctions directly target Iran and have been passed, approved and adopted by the United States. Secondary, or indirect, sanctions target anyone who cooperates with Iran, whether they be individuals, organizations, businesses or and governments. These sanctions were either approved by the US Congress, were the result of executive directives and orders issued by the US president, or were approved by individual states.

Under the JCPOA, secondary sanctions were lifted. 


What About Nuclear-Related Sanctions?

Under the JCPOA, the US government was committed to “stopping” sanctions relating to Iran’s nuclear program. The term “stop” was used because US Congress passed some of the sanctions and, as such, they are the laws of the United States and must be carried out. 

The US president is required to issue an executive order every four months to stop one group of such sanctions and another executive order every six month to stop another group. The JCPOA also commits the US government to stop sanctions imposed by the states.


Has Iran carried out its obligations under the JCPOA?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) judges whether Iran has carried out its obligations. The JCPOA and the UN Security Council resolution stipulates that the IAEA report on Iran’s compliance with JCPOA every three months. As of now, JCPOA has issued 11 reports, all of which attest to Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. 

But President Trump has claimed Iran has not lived up to the “spirit” of the deal. He said its officials “intimidated” inspectors.


What about the US? Has it complied with the JCPOA and its obligations under the deal? 

Under the JCPOA, Iran itself judges whether the other parties to the agreement have carried out their obligations towards Iran. Iran says that although the US has lifted nuclear-related sanctions against Iran, it has not lifted chief obstacles to investments in Iran by major international banking and financial institutions. However, Iranian officials have said that although the US never faithfully and accurately carried out its obligations under JCPOA, it was more faithful to its obligations under President Obama than under Donald Trump.


What are the main objections to the JCPOA in the US?

US opponents of the JCPOA argue that the provisions of the agreement that prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons are temporary. They say Iran will be in a position to resume work that can potentially lead to the acquisition of nuclear armaments.

Opponents say the JCPOA unblocked Iran’s financial stagnation, but did nothing to deal with two key issues: Iran’s ballistic missile program and its conduct in the Middle East. They say it “has intensified Iran’s destabilizing actions”, including its actions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.


What about Iran’s objections to the JCPOA?

Iranian opponents of the JCPOA argue that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had specified what concessions Iranian nuclear negotiators should agree to, and that the JCPOA goes beyond this. In practice, opponents say, the JCPOA has shut down Iran’s nuclear program while the Islamic Republic has not received the full benefits of the sanctions being lifted.

The other objection, put forward mainly by Iran’s conservatives, is that international sanctions against Iran can be easily re-introduced — but bringing Iran’s nuclear program to its pre-JCPOA levels would not be immediate. 

What’s the Europeans response to Trump? 

As the parties that oversee the implementation of the JCPOA, the European Union, the UK, France and Germany demand the strict implementation of the JCPOA by all parties, including the United States.  The European Union says that even if the JCPOA is defective, it is better to implement it than not.

What do Russia and China say?

Russia says that any negotiations or decisions about the JCPOA must be agreed upon by all parties to the agreement, including Iran. China also says the US should remain committed to the agreement. It has given no signs that it sides with Trump’s demands for limiting Iran’s ballistic missile program. 


Has the UN Security Council addressed the issue of Iran’s missile program?

A UN Security Council resolution endorses the JCPOA. An addendum to the resolution requests that Iran refrain from “any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons, including launching ballistic missiles that use such technologies.”

Can international laws ban Iran from having ballistic missiles?

As long as government buy, produce or retain conventional armaments, international laws cannot prohibit them from building and possessing weapons for defensive purposes. Production, testing and retaining ballistic missiles by Iran, provided their range does not exceed 2,000 kilometers, do not violate international laws.

If the US pulls out of the JCPOA, does the agreement have a future?

If Iran agrees to meet its obligations under the JCPOA and other parties to the agreement — France, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and Russia — remain committed to it, the agreement can continue without the US being a part of it.

What are Iran’s choices if Trump abandons JCPOA?

Iran can appeal to the arbitration mechanism stipulated in the JCPOA if the US withdraws. It could also resume its nuclear program or parts of it as it existed before JCPOA. It could also continue complying with the JCPOA, supported by guarantees from Europe. Two senior officials of the Islamic Republic have also declared that Iran could leave the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.


Sources: BBC Persian, Brookings, The Washington Post



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