Six months into his administration, Donald Trump appears increasingly determined to start implementing his campaign promise of “dismantling the disastrous deal with Iran.”
According to remarks in recent interviews, the president is looking for ways to not certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) when the next deadline comes in October.
Iran has been doing all it promised under the agreement, contrary to what US hawks have contended, but apparently that is not enough. One method the Trump administration is thinking of using is to demand inspection of military sites to force Iran to abandon the JCPOA.
If the agreement collapses – whether through US or Iranian action — there would be serious implications inside Iran that could run counter to US interests.
On the economic side, implementing more sanctions and stopping foreign companies from entering the Iranian market would give full control back to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Critics of the IRGC’s role in the economy already believe that the Guards dominate the commanding heights of Iran’s economy- including the energy sector, but neglect to mention that the IRGC increased its involvement in the oil, energy and construction business in 2005 when foreigners were unwilling to invest in Iran. If the likes of Total, CNPC, ENI and other foreign oil companies that are currently investing in Iran choose not to work in the Islamic Republic, the IRGC would be very happy to take their place.
There would also be significant repercussions on Iranian internal politics.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, has always been mistrustful of America and believes that it never delivers on its promises. Although he gave the green light to go ahead with the nuclear negotiations, he has remained skeptical about the outcome.
The deal is associated with the Hassan Rouhani administration and the moderate-reformist elements comprising it. It would not be far-fetched to say that if the deal dies, moderate politics in Iran could die with it.
Instead of Rouhani, his reformist vice president Eshaq Jahangiri and the like, hard-line politicians such as Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf or Ebrahim Raisi would likely take power. Rouhani would be crippled during his second term and forced to move toward the right-wing.
Dismantling the JCPOA would also have an adverse effect on Iran’s regional policies. Any inclination to negotiate political solutions to the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, for example, would be diminished. Iran’s profile in troubled countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan would likely rise.
History has shown that reformist-moderate elements are easier for the international community to work with than hard-line conservatives.
The next four years ahead of Iran are very important. It is supposed to be a time when the tree of the JCPOA is going to produce fruits and the Iranian people finally feel the benefits of sanctions relief. No wonder that the conservatives were so eager to come back to power so they could claim credit for the advances resulting from Rouhani’s negotiators.
In addition to oil giants such as Total and CNPC, which are re-starting operations in Iran, European automobile manufacturers have returned with new models replacing low-quality Chinese cars. The hospitality sector is also booming with a high number of tourists visiting Iran.
All these are great victories for Rouhani. If the progress continues and is not disrupted, conservatives would have a hard time taking power again in four years and would continue their trend of losses.
US officials who assert that they want Iran to moderate its policies in the region and domestically could start by helping Rouhani, not undercutting him. In addition to continuing to comply with the JCPOA, the Trump administration and its supporters should stay away from groups such as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, which do not have a base in Iran, are backed by Iran’s regional adversaries and have even attacked their own motherland.
The US should know that the JCPOA was achieved under exceptional circumstances in which both sides decided to move ahead and trust each other and through the efforts of accomplished diplomats such as Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Trump should understand that if he scraps the deal with hopes of renegotiating a “better” one, that is not going to happen. The US, Iran and the region at large will be the big losers.
Sirous Amerian is a PhD Candidate and tutor at the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University in New Zealand. He received his MA in Indian Studies from the University of Tehran working on Sino-Indian-American trilateral relations. While in Iran, he worked as a Policy Analyst for the Institute of Iran Eurasian Studies (IRAS). He tweets at https://twitter.com/AmerianS