President Donald Trump’s decision to stop abiding by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has undercut American interests and has positioned the United States to fail. The debate in Washington about “fixing or nixing” the deal was never anything more than a euphemism for American abrogation of an international commitment. The discussion has ignored how isolated the United States now is and how its options to deal with Iran are far worse than they were before 2015, when the deal was finalized.
The United States is now on the outside looking in. As the International Atomic Energy Agency made clear long before the Israeli prime minister’s dog and pony show, Iran had a nuclear weapons program before halting work in 2003. If the program had not been detected, Iran would have been able to do build the bomb. But it was. And, for the United States, preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon has been a top national security priority. In 2015, the United States, along with its three main European allies as well as Russia and China negotiated an agreement that did just that. This agreement came on the heels of an elaborate and far-reaching U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and covert action meant to bring Iran to the table and to get it to make a deal. And make a deal Iran did.
The Islamic Republic of Iran made a political decision to forego work on nuclear weapons and agreed to extraordinary and unprecedented inspections to verify the non-diversion of fissile material for military use. In return, the United States eased sanctions on Iran and recognized its right to enrichment, but within the strict and verifiable limits the JCPOA imposes for 25 years on the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle. This simple concession allowed the United States to realize its national security interests, without the use of force, and with the consent of its allies and major competitors alike. And it did so in a way that achieved its main objective: placing verifiable restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Or, at least until shortly before 2 pm yesterday. [Continue reading…]