Reasons behind Trump’s attitude toward JCPOA

18 September 2017 | 20:43 Code : 1971834 Middle East. General category
Reasons behind Trump’s attitude toward JCPOA

Over the past few weeks, there has been much talk about the U.S. leaving the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). But, Reuters reports that a new plan is being scrutinized at the White House for staying in the deal while maintaining more restrictions on Iran in terms of its missile program and regional policies. Some experts still believe that the prospects of the U.S. leaving the deal are very high. The EU, China, and Russia insist on upholding the agreement with Iran.


Jalil Bayat, reporter of Persia Digest, has conducted an interview on the future of the Iran nuclear deal with Paul Pillar. Paul R. Pillar is an academic and 28-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), serving from 1977 to 2005, including as Executive Assistant to the Director.


He is now a non-resident senior fellow at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, as well as a nonresident senior fellow in the Brookings Institution's Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. He was a visiting professor at Georgetown University from 2005 to 2012. He is a contributor to The National Interest.


You can read the interview here:


Q: In your view, will Donald Trump leave the Iran nuclear deal in the same way he left the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris Agreement? Or are his verbal threats just that?


A: Undoing accomplishments by his predecessor has been one of the main features of Donald Trump’s presidency.  This has been true not only of foreign policy measures such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate change agreement but also of domestic policy such as health care.  Trump unquestionably would like to destroy the JCPOA, which he describes as the “worst deal ever”.  His problem in doing so is, as U.S. national security officials will remind him, that the agreement is working.  No purpose would be served by pulling out of it, other than making good on Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  He is looking for a way to undermine the agreement without directly repudiating it himself.  Probably the course he will follow is to invite Congress to re-impose sanctions by withholding certification that is required in U.S. law, and then to hope that Iran will be sufficiently fed up to declare the agreement null and void.


Q: What will the consequences be for the U.S. if it withdraws from the agreement? How will it impact international confidence in U.S. commitments?


A: U.S. withdrawal certainly would damage the credibility of the United States regarding observance of international agreements it has negotiated.  One specific consequence in this regard is that withdrawal would damage whatever confidence North Korea may have in U.S. willingness to abide by any agreement that might be negotiated to deal with the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.  U.S. withdrawal also would deprive the United States of the benefit of conducting normal commerce with Iran; that business would go instead to Russia, China, and the Europeans.


Q: Have U.S. policies on Iran reversed back to regime change? I am referring to Mr. Tillerson addressing the Congress two months ago. Of course, you said in an interview that this was his answer to a question asked at the congressional meeting and does not necessarily represent Washington's real policy to overthrow the Iranian regime. Can such comments help defuse tensions between the two countries? How does the U.S. expect to reduce anti-American feelings in Iran by making these comments?


A: Public comments that suggest a desire to overthrow the other country’s regime obviously only add to bilateral tensions rather than defusing them.  There is plenty of other hostile rhetoric, in both directions, in the U.S.-Iranian relationship, and none of that other rhetoric helps to defuse tensions either.  There still are people in Washington who would like to see regime change in Iran, but that desire is not currently reflected in any specific policy measures of the Trump administration.


Q: Israel is one of the main barriers to Iran-U.S. relations. How can the two countries have independent bilateral policies immune from Israeli influence? It seems that if this factor is set aside in this relationship, the U.S. shares more interests with Iran than any other country in the Middle East.


A: Israel clearly is a very large factor in how any issue involving Iran is handled politically in Washington.  It is unfortunate that the attitudes of the Netanyahu government have contributed to opposition to the JCPOA, because this agreement is, as former senior Israeli security officials have attested, very much in Israel’s security interests.  The United States has some parallel interests and some divergent interests with every state in the Middle East, including Israel and Iran.  It would be difficult to conclude that any one state had more shared interests with the United States than any other state does.  Interests vary in importance and change over time.


Q: On September 5th, you wrote in the National Interest that many of President Trump’s actions, such as leaving the Paris Agreement or threating to leave the JCPOA, were simply due to fulfilling his campaign promises, even if these are not in America’s national interests. Debates have also raised the question of Trump’s impeachment for his radical deconstructive measures. In your view, regardless of past experiences, is an impeachment possible in the current state of U.S. domestic politics?


A: Impeachment of Donald Trump would become possible only when a majority of Republicans in Congress decide that he is more of a political liability to them than an asset.  That has not happened yet, and it is not clear if it will ever happen.  One also needs to remember that impeachment requires not just that the president be disliked or be a political burden but that he has committed offenses as described in the U.S. Constitution.


Q: On the threshold of reaching an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program, and also following the JCPOA agreement, polls in the U.S. showed support by people for the accord. If this view still exists among the American people, are Trump's actions for a possible withdrawal unreasonable and a political suicide? If there is no longer such a support among the people, what are the reasons for the change of heart? According to official reports, Iran has complied with its obligations under the IAEA.


A: Trump has consistently acted in ways intended to appeal to his “base,” which was largely responsible for getting him elected even though it does not constitute a majority of the American people.  He has taken other actions as well that appeal to his base even though they are not supported by most Americans.  He will treat the JCPOA in a similar manner.  This approach may not help get him re-elected, but the prospect of re-election is not necessarily what motivates him the most.  Getting cheered by his base seems to be a bigger motivator.


* This interview was originally published in Persia Digest.

tags: iran Donald Trump JCPOA