Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. The International Atomic Energy Agency was charged with monitoring Iran’s compliance with the agreement. On the U.S. side, the president is required every six months to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. A debate on whether this was a good or bad agreement is no longer on the table. It is an agreement and if the word of the signatories is to mean anything in the future, signatories must abide by the agreement or be held accountable in the court of world opinion.
President Trump has not and does not like the agreement. Additionally and outside of anything in the JCPOA, his administration abhors the regime in Tehran. It is President Trump’s right to like or dislike this and any other agreement but there are consequences if he does not abide by an agreement that has been signed by the United States. In this case, the U.S. would also be breaking rank with the other five signatories. The U.S. would signal to the world that from now on its word is meaningless, that Washington can change its mind whenever it wishes but will hold others to their word. America has military might and will bully others into submission. That means that in today’s setting, North Korea cannot rely on any agreement it could reach with the U.S., thus Pyongyang would be encouraged to continue perfecting its nuclear arsenal; Iran would be enticed to build its defensive capabilities and ramp up its research into nuclear technology; and a host of other countries would think again about their nuclear capabilities and could withdraw from the NPT (the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons).
While some disapprove of the Tehran regime because of its human rights record, the basis of Trump’s disapproval is different—Iran’s missile program and its alleged state sponsorship of terror (both outside the JCPOA).
Iran has every right to develop its missile technology. Let us not forget that the U.S. and its European allies facilitated the transfer of internationally banned and outlawed WMD (weapons of mass destruction) to Saddam Hussein to use against Iranians after he invaded Iran. Iran needs missile capabilities in a world where the strong do as they wish and pressure the vulnerable into submission. International law means nothing when a superpower sees it in its national interest to abrogate an agreement and to bully others into submission.
Why does the U.S. label Iran a state sponsor of terrorism? One has to assume it is because of Iran’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria and/or its support for Hezbollah. No reasonable person could claim that Bashar al-Assad is an enlightened ruler. He is one of the most oppressive despots in the world. Iran supports him because he was Iran’s only ally when the world discarded important international conventions and all measure of human decency and supported Saddam Hussein. Moreover, today Iran feels more vulnerable than ever, surrounded by a hostile U.S. from almost all sides, a U.S. in partnership with Iran’s adversary, Saudi Arabia. At the same time, lest we forget, the U.S. and its European allies also support some of the most oppressive rulers in the world. While Iran is supporting a despot in Syria, U.S. and its allies are in part trying to overthrow the same despot all in the name of the war against terror. If Iran is held accountable, shouldn’t the U.S. and its allies also be held accountable for their actions in Syria?
What about Iran’s support for Hezbollah? To most Muslims, Hezbollah is a legitimate political organization. Hezbollah has defended Lebanon against Israeli incursions; it has helped elevate the voice of Lebanese Shia Muslims; and it has provided many social benefits to the most deprived segments of the Lebanese population. Yes, Hezbollah is supporting the oppressor Assad. But if these activities merit a terrorist designation, then there are governments that oppress the people of other countries and should be at the top of such a list, for example, Saudi Arabia in Bahrain and the governments that support Saudi Arabia in these actions, the U.S. and the U.K.
Integral to all of this is what the nuclear powers agreed to in the NPT, that they would reduce their own arsenal of nuclear weapons. But look at where we are. As America advances its program to develop and deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons, with miniaturization and hypersonic delivery systems, this new generation of nuclear arms, if deployed, is intended to afford “discriminate options” in its use—to destroy a city, a province or a country “presumably” as advertised without a wider fallout—and thus is intended to be more “usable” as opposed to being more of a deterrent as is the case with traditional nuclear arms. Presumably North Korea and Iran are the premier targets of such weapons.
Is anyone safe in such a lawless world? A world where the nuclear powers are not eliminating nuclear weapons as they promised, but are instead developing a new generation of nuclear weapons to possibly use against the weak whenever they wish; where they bully and threaten others into submission; where they impose sanctions to get their way; and where they break any agreement they don’t like.
Whatever one thinks of the regime in Tehran is not the issue. There are over 80 million people living in Iran. Their memories of the Iran-Iraq War and the role of the “civilized” and democratic powers are vivid in their minds. The regime in Tehran would be irresponsible if it did not take note of Trump’s rhetoric and prepare accordingly. Even if Trump certifies Iran’s compliance, the damage is done. Iran and Iranians are under threat and they should be planning for Trump’s abrogation of the agreement and a potential American assault.