The Strategic Disaster of Leaving the Iran Deal

Trump Is Making the Middle East Less Safe

Iranian missiles on display in Tehran, February 2018. Reuters

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran nuclear deal, which had provided Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for stringent monitoring and limits on the country’s nuclear program. Calling the JCPOA a “horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump announced that the United States would soon begin “reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime.”

In response to Trump’s withdrawal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would remain committed to the terms of the JCPOA while it negotiates with the other parties to the deal—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. If a satisfactory solution cannot be found that safeguards the economic benefits Iran is entitled to under the deal, Rouhani said, Iran would “start enriching uranium more than before.” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, however, has expressed doubt that the Europeans will deliver, stating that “without receiving a strong guarantee from these three European countries, we won’t stick to the nuclear agreement.”

Trump’s decision undoes the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and represents an affront to the United States’ European allies, which had strongly lobbied the Trump administration to remain in the deal. But the more enduring impact will be in Tehran, where Trump’s nixing of the JCPOA—and Europe’s response—will push Iran’s leaders to move decisively into the camp of the United States’ geopolitical rivals. It will also shift the policy debate among Iran’s elites, who have for several years argued over the merits of dialogue with the United States. Now, that debate is settled. Iran has learned that negotiating with Washington is a dead end. Instead, it will seek to strengthen its ties with non-Western powers, including China and Russia.


Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA is rooted in a long-standing U.S. opposition

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