Nuclear agreement not a deal solely between U.S. and Iran: Daryl Kimball
TEHRAN - Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, says the nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement between the United States and Iran that can be unilaterally abrogated by the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
“The nuclear agreement is not a deal solely between the United States and Iran,” Kimball tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.
Kimball says, “If the Trump administration walks away from the nuclear deal, it would also send a dangerous message to our European allies, Russia, and China that the United States cannot be trusted to honor agreements and commitments.”
Following is the full text of the interview:
Q: During presidential campaigns Donald Trump said he would "renegotiate” the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran. What is your prediction?
A: Yes, Mr. Trump did pledge to “dismantle” the 2015 agreement between six world powers and Iran, which has led to verifiable limits on Iran’s capacity to produce material that could be used for nuclear weapons, allowed Iran to continue peaceful nuclear activities, and led to the removal of nuclear-related international sanctions — a win-win scenario for both sides.
It is not clear at this point whether and how Trump would seek to do this or why. Trump’s campaign statements on many issues appear to have been designed to pander to hard-right elements of the Republican Party in order to obtain votes and to criticize the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton.
“Trump’s campaign statements on many issues appear to have been designed to pander to hard-right elements of the Republican Party in order to obtain votes.”
Trump was not elected because his supporters wanted him to walk away from the Iran deal. Although American voters may be sharply divided on many issues, but they do expect their elected leaders to reduce nuclear weapons dangers. According to a 2015 Chicago Council on Foreign Relations opinion survey, 73 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of Independents rank “preventing the spread of nuclear weapons” as a top U.S. foreign policy goal.
If Trump actually tries to get the U.S. Congress to impose additional sanctions on Iran or threatens not to extend the waivers of nuclear-related sanctions in an effort to coerce Iran into “renegotiating” the deal, he would have violated the JCPOA and opened the door to the rapid reconstitution of Iran’s capabilities, alienate all major U.S. allies, and increase the odds of another disastrous war in the Middle East.
If Trump or the Republican-led Congress sabotage the deal, they will own the grave geopolitical consequences. I believe that is more likely that the Trump administration will, in the end, decide to continue with the implementation of the JCPOA but work harder to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East region both militarily and diplomatically.
Q: The team of Trump advisors are strong opponents of Iran and the JCPOA. How much can this team shape Trump's foreign policy toward Iran?
A: Given Trump’s lack of experience and lack of specificity on many international and domestic policy issues, his picks for key cabinet positions will be important in that they will likely fill-in many of the essential details regarding key policy decisions and their implementation. It is also likely that there will be some tension and contradictions within the Trump administration on a number of policy issues. Congress will also play an important role on some issues, including U.S. policy toward Iran.
“I think it very likely that the United States’ P5+1 partners will resist such actions and seek to insulate the JCPOA as much as possible.”
So far, some of Trump’s key picks for key positions have been critical of Iran and the JCPOA, such as Rep. Pompeo who has been tapped to serve as the new CIA director.
On the other hand, there are others, like Gen. James Mattis, who has been named as Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense, who are likely to counsel Trump to maintain the U.S. end of the JCPOA bargain. In April in testimony before the U.S. Congress, he described the JCPOA as an “imperfect arms control agreement.” He also said that:
.. there’s no going back. Absent a clear and present violation [by Iran], I don’t think we can take advantage of some new president—Republican or Democrat—and say, ‘well, we’re not going to live up to our word in this agreement.’ I believe we’d be alone if we did, and unilateral economic sanctions from us would not have anywhere near the impact of an allied approach to this.
Rather than rip up the deal or try to squeeze further nuclear concession out of Iran through sanctions on non-nuclear issues, the Trump administration should work with our P5+1 partners to think through:
ways in which we can extend the core nuclear limits and additional verification tools that have been established by the Iran deal — perhaps by multilateralizing them — and pursue strategies that reduce Iran’s commercial and economic incentives to increase its uranium stockpiles and enrichment capacity after those core limits expire.
“If Trump or the Republican-led Congress sabotage the deal, they will own the grave geopolitical consequences.”
Q: Some argue Trump would not violate the JCPOA but instead will place sanctions on charges of human rights violations in Iran. If so, can it affect the future of the JCPOA?
A: Yes, it is possible that some in Congress and some in the Trump administration will seek to put pressure on Iran for other reasons, including by imposing sanctions that seek to limit Iran’s testing and development of long-range ballistic missiles and… for human rights violations. The effect of these possible actions on the JCPOA itself is hard to assess at this point. If the two countries get into an action-reaction cycle, there could be an escalation of tensions that leads to the unraveling of the JCPOA by one side or the other. It is important, in my view, for the U.S. and Iran to maintain an intensive dialogue on matters of mutual interest to try to find ways to reduce tensions, improve the well-being of their citizens, and to improve commercial and cultural exchanges that benefit the people of our nations.
Q: If Trump violates the JCPOA, how will Washington’s European allies and JCPOA parties react?
A: If the Trump administration walks away from the nuclear deal, it would also send a dangerous message to our European allies, Russia, and China that the United States cannot be trusted to honor agreements and commitments.
“My private conversations with German, French and British government officials indicate that Mogherini’s statement has their strong backing.”
The nuclear agreement is not a deal solely between the United States and Iran. Washington worked with Russia, China, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom to build an international sanctions regime to pressure Iran to the negotiating table and then reach a deal to block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons. None of these countries have any intention of walking away from the agreement, which is working well for them, and the people of Iran.
If the United States administration or Congress takes actions that violate the JCPOA (such as failing to renew waivers of nuclear-related sanctions under the “Iran Sanctions Act”) or measures that are clearly designed to provoke Iran to take actions that would violation the JCPOA, I think it very likely that the United States’ P5+1 partners will resist such actions and seek to insulate the JCPOA as much as possible. Many American foreign policy experts and a significant majority of the American people would also question such a cynical and counterproductive move.
Just days after Trump was elected, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who led the group of countries in negotiations with Iran, said it is in European interest and UN interest to “guarantee that the agreement is implemented in full.” My private conversations with German, French and British government officials indicate that Mogherini’s statement has their strong backing.
If the Trump administration walks away from the nuclear deal, it would also send a dangerous message to our European allies, Russia, and China that the United States cannot be trusted to honor agreements and commitments. After sending such a message to the international community, Trump would be hard-pressed to build an international sanctions coalition strong enough to push Iran back to the negotiating table.
On the other hand, if the IAEA finds that Iran has failed to meet its obligations under the deal, however minor the infraction, it is likely that hard-liners in Congress and in the Trump administration will seek to use this as a reason to blame Iran and walk away from the deal and reimpose sanctions. This makes it essential, in my view, for Iran to continue to meet its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.