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Foreign Policy Brief #40

May 15th, 2018


On May 8th, President Trump announced that sanctions would be reimposed on Iran, violating and thus jeopardizing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an integral part of the legacy of President Obama. The JCPOA, colloquially known as the Iran Deal, was formed as a solution by the US, China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, and Iran to stem fears that Iran’s nuclear energy program could be used to build nuclear weapons. The deal, passed in 2015, removed heavy sanctions which had crushed the Iranian economy in the early 2010’s, in return for strong limits on the enrichment and stockpiling of Uranium and regular, independently conducted inspections of nuclear sites.

While Iran is widely considered to have been following the rules of the JCPOA, the Israeli government and elements within the Trump administration have insisted that the country is behaving duplicitously. President Trump considered Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles as a violation of the spirit of the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held a press conference on April 30th claiming that Iran engaged in the development of nuclear weapons between 1999 and 2003, and never disclosed this during the formation of the JCPOA. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that wealth created under the deal “drove Iranian malign activity”

Now that the United States has withdrawn, the remaining six members of the deal are scrambling to keep it in place.  British Foreign secretary Boris Johnson stated after speaking with his French counterpart that they are determined to “conserve the essence” of the deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Russian and Chinese officials looking to weigh their options. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would increase Uranium enrichment if a solution was not found. President Trump has threatened to not only replace US sanctions on Iran, but also sanction “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons”. Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton predicted that “the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests to come along with us”.

Military conflicts have sparked between Israel and Iran, potentially in response to Iran’s reduced diplomatic security. On April 9th, Israel attacked the T-4 Syrian Air Force base near Homs, Syria. Earlier this month, they struck again, this time on a cache of Iranian missiles north of Hama, Syria. On May 9th, immediately following US withdrawal from the Iran Deal, Iran launched 20 rockets towards Golan Heights, an area of Syria occupied by Israel since 1981.


The United States has been pushing for war with Iran ever since the Islamist revolution of 1979 replaced the western-backed dictatorship of the Shah. Iran has been largely spurned internationally since, leading to a reduced access to western weapons and capital. For this reason, the nuclear program has been essential for Iran, allowing them to avoid squandering their most valuable export – oil – on their own energy needs. Elements within the US military industrial complex have used this to push for regime change at every turn, even when diplomacy is working, as it was under the JCPOA. The hypocrisy here is pervasive. The United States has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and the White House announced an increase in that arsenal this week. Israel is one of only four countries in the world to refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, and is widely believed to have built nuclear weapons in secret. Also, the treaty actually requires nuclear armed states such as the US to help non-nuclear armed states such as Iran build peaceful nuclear energy programs.

It’s no coincidence that this aggressive attitude also serves the interests of our most powerful allies in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are noted rivals of Iran and have used humanitarian disasters in Syria and Yemen as proxy wars to push their influence, all with the support of the US. This contrasts with our European allies, who have made major economic investments in Iran since the raising of sanctions. French energy company Total signed a $5 billion deal for Iranian natural gas last year, and has no interest in losing that investment.

Trump’s desire to end the Iran deal seems embarrassingly rooted in his fascination with tarnishing every aspect of Obama’s legacy. He has not suggested any possible solution now that the deal is nearly destroyed. It seems that his goal is a dependable way to ensure that Iran has no way of building weapons, but that is exactly what Obama and our allies painstakingly ensured with the Iran Deal. Nevertheless, the war hawks of his administration are surely delighted that the diplomatic route is being steadily closed off. And they aren’t alone. Iranian hardliners have long pushed for a complete break of relations with the US, who they deem untrustworthy. The more moderate Iranian President Rouhani is still very popular, but he spent a large amount of political capital on the dealmaking process, and he might not be able to accomplish that a second time. Not only is breaking the deal potentially helping hand Iran to the hardliners, it jeopardizes any future deals we might make. Now the rest of the world knows that even if they spend months or years forming a treaty with the United States, it might only last until the next administration. This is not the right message to send with the North Korean summit coming up.

Engagement Resources

  • Read Bernie Sander’s Op-Ed on the Danger Caused by Leaving the Iran Deal: Here is Sanders’ article, published by the Guardian last Monday. You can also watch his town hall discussion on the topic from the same day, hosted by The Intercept.
  • Get Involved with Beyond the Bomb: Beyond the Bomb is an activist group looking to reduce the danger of nuclear war around the world. You can learn about the campaigns they are involved with on their website. 


This Brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this Brief please contact Colin@usresistnews.org.


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