Trump and the Iran nuclear deal: 5 years of hostility

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Jul 14 (efe-epa).- Donald Trump declared war on the Iran nuclear deal prior to taking office and before the final agreement was reached.

Five years later, the current president of the United States has succeeded in weakening that 2015 agreement, but his ultimate goal of holding direct talks with Tehran on “improving” the accord has remained elusive.

“Take a look at the deal he’s making with Iran. He (then-President Barack Obama) makes that deal, Israel maybe won’t exist very long. It’s a disaster, and we have to protect Israel,” Trump said in announcing his presidential candidacy on June 16, 2015.

Less than a month later, on July 14, 2015, the US joined Iran, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union in signing the agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Under the terms of the deal, Iran agreed to severe limits on its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of US, EU and United Nations sanctions.

Trump, who was not initially regarded as a serious threat to secure the Republican presidential nomination, made his staunch opposition to the Iran deal a part of his campaign platform and said in March 2016 that he had “studied” the nuclear agreement “in greater detail than almost anybody.”

But the New York real-estate magnate frequently described the agreement in misleading terms, calling it a “contract” by which the US had supposedly paid Iran “$150 billion” in exchange for its nuclear commitments.

In fact, Washington made a $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran to compensate that country for weapons it had purchased from the US but never received due to a breakdown in bilateral relations following the 1979 overthrow of the US-backed shah.

After taking office, Trump took more than a year – until May 2018 – before announcing that the US would withdraw from the agreement. That delay, according to experts consulted by Efe, was due to the reluctance of his advisers.

“There was little doubt that Trump would withdraw from the Iran deal once in office. It took a bit longer than expected because virtually his entire national security team at the time fought against pulling out. They understood the value of a diplomatic agreement that prevented Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who focuses on US policy toward the Middle East and Asia, told Efe.

A legal requirement under the JCPOA that he re-authorize the waiver of sanctions included in the agreement every four months also was anathema to Trump, and some analysts say the shame he felt at having to make that announcement – one that contradicted his rhetoric – contributed to his decision.

Few in Washington pressured more forcefully for a withdrawal from the deal than Mark Dubowitz, chief executive officer of the conservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which the Iranian government sanctioned last year over its alleged hostility toward the Middle Eastern country.

US and European diplomats consulted with Dubowitz for months while discussing a potential parallel agreement that might avert a US withdrawal from the pact, and the analyst said he believes Trump made a serious attempt to find an alternative.

“He gave time for the Europeans and Democrats in Congress to come onside to fix the deal, but when he determined that they wouldn’t he moved to nix it,” Dubowitz told Efe.

Trump, a president who prides himself as an infallible negotiator and dreams of sealing historic agreements with US enemies like North Korea, bandied about the possibility of reaching a new deal with the Iranians. But Tehran never showed any sign of being on board with the idea.

Indeed, since the US re-imposed all the sanctions on Iran that it had waived under the JCPOA, bilateral tensions have steadily increased and nearly boiled over into an all-out military conflict early this year after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top security commander.

“While (Trump has) succeeded in putting Iran under considerable duress, especially economically, the ‘maximum pressure’ strategy has thus far resulted in greater turmoil on both the nuclear and regional fronts,” the Iran senior analyst at the Crisis Group think tank, Naysan Rafati, told Efe.

Trump’s decision also has increased tensions with the European signatories to the nuclear deal, who had to scramble to salvage the agreement while also shielding EU businesses from the extraterritorial impact of Washington’s recently re-imposed sanctions on Iran.

The latest battleground is now the UN Security Council, where the US is looking to extend the current arms embargo on Iran that is due to expire in October.

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