President-elect Trump has repeatedly attacked the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, referring to it as a disaster and at one point promising on the campaign trail to tear it up. Yet, experts around the globe and approximately 100 countries have expressed their support for the landmark agreement, which verifiably prevents Iran from producing enough material for a nuclear weapon for at least ten years, though some provisions last longer.
Since signing the agreement, Iran has eliminated 97% of its uranium stockpile, ripped out two-thirds of its uranium centrifuges, and filled its Arak reactor with concrete – blocking a pathway to a plutonium bomb – and permitted continuous monitoring and inspector access to key nuclear sites. Under the deal, Iran is further restricted from possessing more than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched up to a maximum of 3.67%, also blocking a pathway to a uranium bomb. (For more details on the successful implementation of the Iran deal, read the Center’s factsheet).
On the one-year anniversary of the signing of the deal, John Tierney, executive director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, listed hard facts and addressed critiques of the deal. Before the third Presidential debate, we shared a factsheet to reduce the spread of misinformation about the agreement.
Thankfully, criticism of the deal is now waning. Even some of the fiercest Iran deal critics have counseled against killing the agreement and instead advised “stricter enforcement” of it (advice that is superfluous considering the strict enforcement already in place).
Still, many hawks are adamant about dismantling the deal – and here we are asking the question: What repercussions would we face if the next U.S. president scraps the Iran deal?
For starters, the JCPOA is not a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Iran. It involves the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union (EU), and Iran. The European Union has already reiterated its “resolute commitment” to the deal. The other countries involved are almost certain to remain committed despite America’s potential withdrawal from it.
If the Trump administration attempts to renegotiate the terms of the agreement with Iran, it likely will be forced to do so alone, without the support of other signatories. This would create unnecessary friction between the U.S. and its key allies that back the deal. While U.S. sanctions will adversely affect Iran’s economy, without the support of the other signatories, it will not have as crippling an impact.
Iran might actually gain more than it loses from such a development if the Trump administration backs out of the deal. Iran will keep the billions of dollars it has received in sanctions relief and could choose to deny IAEA inspectors’ access to its nuclear facilities. The international community would have limited means for assessing and monitoring Iran’s progress on its nuclear program.
If the U.S. were to back out of the Iran deal, the result could be disastrous: Iran could initiate production of a nuclear weapon, free of sanctions or even international inspections, potentially leaving the U.S. and the world with the unappealing option of military intervention to curb nuclear proliferation in Iran.