On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Donald Trump vowed to rescind the Iran nuclear deal once in office. But to the dismay of President-elect Donald Trump, the agreement is playing out exactly as planned.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) came into force in January. With the lifting of international sanctions, Tehran has a renewed spirit for enterprise, evidenced by their rapid global economic reintegration.
In September, the U.S. Treasury approved Boeing’s sale of 80 passenger jets to Iran’s national airline worth up to $25 billion. Earlier this month, French oil giant Total S.A. agreed to a gas development deal with Iran, who boasts the world’s largest natural gas reserves. French automaker PSA Peugot Citreon have come to terms to manufacture vehicles in Tehran. Today, Canada’s Bombardier Inc. are in talks with Iran Air, looking to compete with Boeing for additional contracts to replace Iran’s aging civil aviation fleet.
Perhaps more important to Trump’s incoming foreign policy team is Russia, who’ve sold their S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to the Islamic Republic’s Air Defense Force. The Kremlin has a billion-dollar energy deal to build offshore drilling rigs in the Persian Gulf. As a part of their nascent 5-year strategic cooperation agreement, they’ve formed a Joint Economic Commission to work toward free trade and energy partnership.
With a Republican Congress and Trump in the White House, all signs point to a toughened strategy of resolve with Iran. And as the world broods over the potential security implications, many are amiss in their assessment of Russia’s role as a key attenuating force.
If President Trump wants to maintain cool heads between Washington and the Kremlin, this will require his acquiescence to Russian demands on Iran, who is lining up to be a strong potential defense and energy partner.
On Monday, Trump spoke with Putin and agreed to a joint effort to combat international terrorism and end the conflict in Syria. Trump has announced he will withdraw support for the Syrian rebel groups once gaining office, in a move sympathetic to the Kremlin-backed Bashar al-Assad regime. If he truly wants to cooperate on mutual ground with Putin on Syria, Trump will have to concede his hardline stance on Iran.
Mr. Trump knows how to negotiate, and renegotiate, trade agreements but he doesn’t know the more complicated world of international politics. Now is the time for him to stop blowing smoke and start doubling back on hyperbolic campaign promises.
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2016 Policy Conference in March, Trump promised to scrap the deal and “hold Iran totally accountable” for their links to designated terrorist organizations. Israel has rallied behind Trump’s calls for renegotiating but one should hope that Trump’s sensibilities for business and security ought to have greater effect on his policy.
During the first presidential debate, Trump was pressed on what strategy could substitute the JCPOA. He couldn’t answer. There is simply no viable alternative short of regional instability and severed relations with major global powers. Trump does not want to invade Iran. Neither does he want to ruin his opportunity for a detente with Russia, and an expedient end to the crisis in Syria.
Even if he does intend to throw out the deal he likely won’t be able to get away with it on his own. The JCPOA was negotiated and framed as a political agreement between Iran, Germany, and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. This doesn’t leave room for Trump to unilaterally reimpose sanctions without being subject to a potential veto by other signatories like Russia or France, who have clear material interests in keeping the deal alive.
The largely ignored player in this discussion is Russia. This is because even if the reasons for keeping trade channels open with Iran are insufficient, keeping diplomatic ties with Moscow is too strategically compelling with respect to Syria and regional security interests. The imminent threat of Putin’s veto wouldn’t help either.
The picture will become more clear as Trump announces his foreign policy team in the coming weeks. Unfortunately, any attempt to wrap your head around a coherent Trump foreign policy doctrine is difficult until then.
Though suffice it to say, we can expect a moderate Trump foreign policy with respect to Iran.
It’s becoming redundant to say that we can’t trust Donald Trump’s campaign promises. They are ignorant to the complex realities of international security, and ripe with the hyperbole of a seasoned politician. The greatest trick Trump played was convincing us he wasn’t one.