Opinion: despite Donald Trump's aggressive rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear deal, the political and legal aspects of the deal have stopped him from taking action
ISNA recently reported this comment from Javad Zarif, the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs: "for a year and two months, Trump has been saying that he will undermine the nuclear deal with Iran, but has not done it yet because he knows the cost of doing it".
While disconnected at a diplomatic level, the Iran-US confrontation has experienced many tensions and disputes since the rise of Islamic Republic. On one side, the leaders of Iran have articulated an anti-Western and anti-liberalism discourse during this period. On the other side, the leaders of the US defined Iran as a threat to world peace by using phrases like "the axis of evil".
Despite societal efforts to establish friendly relations between both the countries, this relationship at the diplomatic level has remained conflictual. On Iran’s side, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad articulated one of the most radical views against Western countries and US foreign policy from 2005 to 2013. Simultaneously, his government was developing its nuclear industry, which accumulated even more security concerns in the Western countries.
When Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama were in power, there was a chance for rehabilitating diplomatic relations.
Influenced by this concern, the members of UN Security Council formed an international coalition against Iran, which mobilised big and small countries across the world. This eventually caused several international actions to be taken against Iran, including the economic sanctions and punitive resolutions of UN. Until 2013, aggressive sanctions against Iran were more or less acceptable, so much so that even its oldest allies Russia and China voted against Iran when the table was arranged for passing further sanctions.
This long-lasting confrontation, though, reached its end while a "window of opportunity" opened between both sides from 2013 to 2017. When Hassan Rouhani came to power in Iran five years ago, coinciding with Barack Obama’s tenure as the President of United States, the chance allowed the rehabilitating of diplomatic relations.
In Iran, Rouhani, known as "Mullah Diplomat", mandated for a new phase of negotiations with the UNSC and Germany which were centred on the nuclear issue. At the same time, he convinced Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, to permit his foreign minister Zarif to sit on the table with US Secretary of State John Kerry to facilitate a multilateral understanding. While Obama’s administration was eager to solve the Iran crisis, the iformal nod from Iran’s Supreme Leader opened that window of opportunity between Iran and the US, which became a turning point in Iran-US history.
In the new political climate, the negotiations regarding the nuclear issue reached an important phase in July 2015 in Lausanne, which prepared the ground for a promising deal. All the negotiators agreed that they would continue the dialogue aiming to reach a comprehensive agreement, which finally took place after 18 months of "intensive bargaining". A comprehensive deal was compiled as an official document and was officially signed by the delegates of the participant countries.
During negotiations, the diplomats of Iran and the US met each other face-to-face and at a diplomatic level in front of the public and media for the first time in three decades. It was during these negotiations that Zarif and Kerry shook hands in front of cameras, sat around one table, and even walked alongside on the streets in a friendly atmosphere. This new climate broke the taboos at a society level too. The photos quickly spread over social media and press and prepared public opinion for the upcoming deal.
The election of Trump closed the window for further negotiations to extend the mutual understanding between Iran and the US to political and economic areas
However, the rise and election of Donald Trump closed the window of opportunity for further negotiations to extend the mutual understanding between Iran and the US to political and economic areas. With his aggressive rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear deal, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he will undermine the deal as it does not benefit US interests. However, the political and legal aspects of the deal and the cooperation of signatories have so far hindered Trump from taking serious action, as even claimed by the Iranian president.
From a legal point of view, the deal has committed the US government in two ways which ties Trump’s hands. First of all, undermining this deal officially and in an justifiable way requires the US government to go through an official procedure of complaint against Iran, where they need to involve and convince other signatory countries. Secondly, even in terms of positioning further sanctions on Iran, the deal legally obliges the president of US as a legal entity to suspend further sanctions that may be legislated by the US Congress.
From RTÉ Radio One's This Week, Daniel Lippman, co-author of Playbook, and Pete King, Republican Congressman for New York, discuss the Iran nuclear deal and Trump
From a political point of view, the nuclear deal has changed the order of international coalitions, as several European countries such as the UK, France, and Germany have been sympathetic to the Iranian position. These countries have stressed a number of times that they will not breach the deal and will stick to it, as Guardian calls it, "bypassing Trump" to save the deal. International society and European governments perceive the deal as the means for protecting the peace, as well as a mechanism to survive the mutual understanding between Iran and the West.
While the window of opportunity for further dialogue today between Iran and US is closed, the previous opening is still yielding results. It seems that undermining the Iran nuclear deal needs another window to open, this time for an agreement on eliminating the deal, which seems to be far away from reality.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ