As U.S. President Donald Trump takes over the presidency, there is deep uncertainty about the prospects of his predecessor’s key foreign policy achievement: the nuclear deal with Iran. During the campaign, Trump variously pledged “to dismantle the disastrous deal” and to “force the Iranians back to the bargaining table to make a much better deal.” The first option would be calamitous, but the second is worth considering more carefully.
It is important to note that, so far, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—cosigned by Iran and the United States alongside China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom—has delivered what it was supposed to: in return for tangible economic dividends, Tehran cannot produce nuclear weapons without detection. Indeed, that is why many in Israel’s military and security establishment favor its preservation. Most Israeli security officials and diplomats whom my colleagues in Jerusalem interviewed last year deemed the JCPOA as a done deal that should be rigorously enforced. Others have had similar observations.
What the deal has not done is either fulfill its advocates’ most optimistic hopes or confirm its critics’ worst fears. Iran has neither moved toward rapprochement with the United States nor committed any serious breach of the accord.
As with any complex technical agreement, of course, implementation has been uneven. Iran has committed several technical infringements: twice, its heavy-water production exceeded the agreement’s 130-metric-ton cap (by less than one percent). Paradoxically, these problems proved the accord’s efficacy: inspectors quickly detected the violations, and Iran remedied them. In just one short year since the deal was implemented, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has confirmed on six occasions that Iran has fulfilled its obligations under the deal.
There have been more serious problems with the sanctions relief promised to Iran in exchange for the country’s cooperation. Iran still lacks normal international banking ties as major financial institutions dally.