The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran Nuclear deal, is an agreement between Iran,United Nations Security Council members — the U.S., the U.K, France, Russia, China, Germany–and the EU. It was reached in July 2015 and asks, among many other demands, that Iran scale down its uranium enrichment program.
The accord aims to allow Iran sufficient access to nuclear technology for medical and industrial uses while limiting its ability to build nuclear weapons. In return, decades-long sanctions on the country have been lifted, easing tensions between Iran and its adversaries. The sanctions–penalties imposed by the U.N. or by one country to another–included:
– Suspension of Iranian imports into the U.S.
– Halting uranium enrichment and nuclear activities in the country
– A ban on investments and trades between the U.S. and Iran
– Further sanctions on countries that do trade with Iran
– These penalties have crippled Iran's economy over the past few decades, weakening the country's power in the global order.
Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Nigeria, Israel, Russia and the U.N. presented USC students his take on the Iran nuclear deal last week. The deal is now under scrutiny after President Trump threatened to leave the agreement earlier in October.
Why doesn't Trump feel the deal?
Part of the U.S.'s side of entering the agreement involves the U.S. president re-certifying, or vouching for, Iran's compliance with the agreement every 90 days. Trump has vowed to stop doing this.
Pickering said President Trump's current concerns lie outside the terms of the agreement, and focus on Iran's development of ballistic missiles, involvement with terrorist groups in the country and other diplomatic quandaries. He stressed that Iran has not violated terms of the agreement.
President Trump said that the agreement is no longer in the American interest. "As I have said many times, the Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," he said in remarks at the White House on October 13th.
And if Trump doesn't recertify?
If the president doesn't recertify the agreement, Congress will have 60 days to create an exit plan specifying the sanctions it wants to reinstate. The president would have to sign off on that plan.
Pickering also mentioned a "special provision" in the legislation, a compromise that will occur "if and only if the Senate and the House wish to reinstate the sanctions and do nothing else."
This means the Senate can reinstate the sanctions with a vote of 50 people. If the Senate and the House wish to do more than reinstate the sanctions, like add more to list, they will need to vote on the basis of 60 to pass that legislation.
However, Pickering said alterations to the sanctions are unlikely to happen, "since the Republicans do not have a 60 majority in the Senate if the Democrats vote together. There is unlikely to be a more ramified series of steps."
After the U.S. leaves the deal?
Pickering warned that if the U.S. leaves the agreement, Iran could react in one of two ways: it could void the agreement and restart its nuclear program again without restrictions, in which case military force may be required to re-impose sanctions and limitations. Or, it could stick to the treaty with the other six parties, simply excluding the U.S. from negotiations.
"[The other countries] might not join us in additional international sanctions to try to force Iran to either comply with the agreement or to enter into a new [one] because they're satisfied with the present agreement," Pickering said. "Iran hasn't violated the agreement, but we would be violating [it.]"
What does this mean for the U.S.?
With sanctions reinstated, Pickering said the U.S. could lose its place as the global reserve currency, the money held by major institutions worldwide to pay off debts and goods without the risk of fluctuating exchange rates. Pickering named the Japanese Yen and Chinese Renminbi as eager replacements for the dollar. "That would be a devastating problem for us because we derive an enormous influence through providing the world's reserve currency," Pickering said.
North Korea would also be empowered by the broken agreement. After Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi agreed to a disarmament deal in 2003, he was killed in 2011 by NATO forces and regime change quickly followed.
Pickering said breaking the Iran deal could act as an excuse for the DPRK to avoid potential (and unlikely) disarmament. "North Koreans play that violin very readily because guess what? It justifies their nuclear program," he said.
An Iranian Perspective
Sina Baharlouei is an Industrial and Systems Engineering PhD student at USC from Isfahan, Iran, who voiced concern regarding the sentiments towards Iran expressed by the U.S. government — especially President Trump.
"Any country should have the ability to defend itself," Baharlouei said, citing the Iran-Iraq War, in which the Iraqi invasion of Iran was aided by ballistic missiles and chemical weapons funded by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, while Iran struggled to import weapons.
Reactions in his home country are similar to his own views, Baharlouei said. "People are disappointed."