As Iranians take to the streets and the international community looks on nervously, President Donald Trump is facing a crucial turning point on Iran, says Jack Rosen.
Last October, Donald Trump took a decisive step back from the multilateral nuclear agreement, which he has famously branded the “worst deal ever.”
Now, for the first time since then, the President must decide whether to continue both certifying the deal and waiving sanctions against Tehran.
The time has come for Trump to hold Iran to account. However, the task is complex. The process extends far beyond the end of this week. It will require Trump to create a unity of purpose both at home and abroad that has so far been lacking. But it can and must be done.
The first challenge for the president is to turn the existing nuclear agreement from a decade-long arrangement into a permanent deal, removing the so-called “sunset clause.”
The second is to see the deal curb Iran’s ballistic missile development, which also poses a serious threat to regional stability. Such changes will give real purpose to a deal which currently guarantees nothing.
The Obama administration hoped that by signing a deeply flawed agreement and waiving crippling economic sanctions, it could bring Iran in from the cold, and strengthen the regime’s moderates on the way to bringing stability to the wider region.
This plan has clearly and demonstrably failed. Since Washington and five fellow Western powers signed the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran has increasingly sown chaos in the region.
Tehran’s fingerprints are all over the Middle East’s bloodiest conflicts from Syria to Yemen and beyond. Unencumbered by sanctions, Tehran continues to spread terror across the region.
Meanwhile, the Iranian people have once again taken to the streets in wide-scale protest against the Islamic Republic’s authoritarian rulers, who have not hesitated to brutally suppress their voice.
The crux of these public demonstrations is disillusionment over continued price rises and economic hardship at home, while vital resources are funnelled towards bankrolling President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, Houthi rebels and others to fight wars abroad.
An Iranian Saeqeh missile launched during war games on April 25, 2010, in southern Iran, near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow strategically located waterway through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supplies pass. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards fired five missiles as part of an ongoing three-day military drill, with Fars news agency naming two of those tested as the Noor (Light) and Nasr (Victory) missiles. It said a third, having a range of over 300 kilometres was also fired but did not name it. The Islamic republic’s missile program has raised concerns in the West, which is already at loggerheads with Tehran over its controversial nuclear project.
The demonstrations have been a reminder that large swathes of the Iranian public are increasingly frustrated by a regime that seeks to isolate them from the international community and damaging economic progress, thereby depriving the people of a future.
Some have argued that forgoing the nuclear deal at this juncture, would risk playing into the hands of Iranian rulers only too eager to portray America as the enemy and the very catalyst of civil unrest.
Decertifying the agreement now and a renewal of sanctions would make it easy for the ayatollahs to further condemn popular protest as the work of the “Great Satan.” It could prove a setback for those in Iran who so desperately want engagement with the West.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration could present an alternative way of forgoing the nuclear deal in its current form while supporting the Iranian people’s struggle for a more progressive future for Iran. Such an outcome will require a long-term plan.
The Senate Resolution 368 scheduled to be voted upon vote this week not only expresses solidarity with the legitimate protests of the Iranian people and seeks international consensus on condemning the Iranian regime’s human rights violations, but it calls on the U.S. to introduce targeting sanctions to hold the regime to account.
The collaboration of the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker and Senator Ben Cardin, the most senior Democrat on the Committee, on the Corker-Cardin proposal is another such example. Both of these initiatives illustrate the important role Congress can play in helping the administration to create a bipartisan consensus at home, which is essential if the U.S. is to persuade her allies to amend a deal which they continue to champion.
Support from both sides of the aisle to alter meaningfully the nuclear agreement would be a persuasive statement to the international community. The united voice of Republicans and Democrats would give confidence that President Trump’s opposition to the deal is rooted in very real, grave concerns, rather than political interest.
And there are two clear and important alterations to the agreement, which a Corker-Cardin compromise can secure.
Having said that, Iran has already shown itself to be a bad actor in the process and if they won’t commit to renegotiating the agreement, then the U.S. position must be to resort to stronger action to hold the regime to account.
Holding Iran to account and halting its nuclear program has long been a priority for the West. Washington must continue to take a leading role in this process.
There is now a real opportunity to collaborate with parties from both sides of the political spectrum, in order to make this reality and garner support from the international community. As President Trump approaches the first anniversary of taking office, he has the chance to build a lasting legacy of stability in the Middle East.
But it will take patience and determination far beyond this week’s deliberations.