Is Donald Trump trying to push for a renegotiation of Iran nuclear deal by isolating the country further?

On 2 June, United States President Donald Trump delivered on his campaign promise of pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Now, he has turned focus on changing the US policy towards Cuba, tightening restrictions on trade and travel. However, what Trump may have covertly been working towards, is withdrawing the US from the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was signed between the P5+1 (the US, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany) and Iran, or at least renegotiating it.

After assuming power, Trump slammed the Iran government for not living up to the spirit of the nuclear deal, as Politico  reported."We’re analysing it very, very carefully, and we'll have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future," Trump said. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had also said that the US administration will conduct a comprehensive review of its Iran policy.

The Iran Nuclear Deal promised to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for restricting the country's nuclear activities. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was implemented to ensure that Tehran’s "nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful." Iran reaffirmed that under no circumstances will it ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.

During his presidential campaign, Trump criticised the deal and vowed to either renegotiate it or completely dismantle it if he becomes the president. Now, under Trump, the Iran Nuclear Deal’s fate could meet a similar fate to that of the Paris Accord. The president’s provocative statements against Iran and his self-claimed instigation of the Gulf countries to cut ties with Qatar might be a way of isolating Iran even further to get it on the negotiating table.

Unlike the Paris Accord, Trump cannot pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal without provoking the other signatories. A CNBC report says that it could have serious ramifications for the United States if the other nations believe that it is trying to scuttle the deal without any provocation from Tehran. To avoid such serious consequences, Trump is possibly trying to divert global attention to Iran’s support to terrorist organisations.

“Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism,” tweeted Trump soon after the Gulf countries severed ties with Qatar. His trip to Saudi Arabia and his speech seems to have emboldened the countries to take this step. In his address, Trump called on to the Muslim leaders to isolate a nation he said had “fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.” He was referring to Iran.

“From Lebanon to Iraq and Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” Trump had said. This open vilification, even from Trump, does not bode well. This might be the first step of his plan to shift attention to Iran’s alleged support for terror groups to pressurise it into renegotiating the deal, which Tehran has opposed until now.

The immediate trigger for the Gulf crisis are the alleged comments made by Qatari ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in favour of Iran. As this Dailyo report points out, Qatar is just a pawn in the Saudi Iran rivalry. This rivalry was taken to an extreme level and worsened by Trump's comments during his trip to Saudi Arabia. By attacking an important ally of Iran, the Gulf countries and Trump are possibly indirectly attacking Tehran

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani has said there is no chance of any renegotiation and he dismissed Trump’s comments as just slogans.

Trump had called the Iran Nuclear Deal the “worst deal ever negotiated” during his campaign and said that the fundamental flaw in the deal was that even though the P5+1 limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it did not address Iran’s human rights record.

File image of US president Donald Trump . AP

File image of US president Donald Trump . AP

"I think this was one of the mistakes in how that agreement was put together, is that it completely ignored all of the other serious threats that Iran poses," the CNBC report quoted Tillerson as saying.

On 7 June, terrorists attacked Iran’s Parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, killing at least 12. While even some the Gulf countries expressed condolences to Iran, the White House issued a statement in which Trump has blamed Tehran itself for the attack.

“We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” read the White House statement.

Trump has also got Michael D’Andrea, a Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden, to run the agency’s Iran operations. The New York Times reported that Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign.

By constantly referring to Tehran’s support to terrorism and bringing it in the limelight, Trump might be pushing it to the negotiating table. It is possibly impractical for Trump to dismantle the deal. If the unity of the countries that negotiated the deal falls apart all of the safeguards that the IAEA has put in place under the deal will go away, a Slate report quoted expert on nuclear non-proliferation at Middlebury College Jeffrey Lewis as saying.

“You could end up with a situation in which there are no sanctions, and we have no idea whether they’re building a bomb or not. And by the time we figure it out, it might be too late,” he added.

The Trump administration has already notified Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. Without any violation by Iran, the US does not have any viable reason for Trump to kill the deal. The best option he has to fulfill his campaign promise is to get the Iranians to renegotiate by isolating it even further. However, Trump's efforts might only miff Tehran and further strain the ties between the US and its European allies.

The European Union's foreign policy chiefs have already reaffirmed their commitment to the Iran Nuclear Deal and it is highly unlikely that they will follow Trump's plan to renegotiate the deal. “The European Union reiterates the need for continued full and effective implementation of the JCPOA throughout the lifetime of the agreement,” the EU foreign ministers said in a joint statement. Some European, Chinese and Russian companies are also vying for major roles in Iran's oil and gas industry. The Royal Dutch Shell has taken steps to re-enter Iran and France's Total has announced that it would develop a massive natural gas field in Iran, according to this CNBC report.

Considering the Chinese and European interests in Iran, Trump might anger his allies even further by attempting to renegotiate the Iran deal and proposing sanctions on the country, which will harm European and Chinese businesses in Tehran.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 23:42 PM

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