Iran Deal Won’t Survive Beyond May 2018, Sanctions Expert Says

The Iran nuclear deal is on life support and on a trajectory for collapse, many policy experts believe, despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s current continuation of sanctions relief, CNBC reports. Trump agreed to waive sanctions on the Islamic Republic in mid-January as part of the 2015 nuclear pact, but pledged that this time it was the country’s “last chance”, threatening a U.S. walkout.

“I am very concerned that it will not survive May 2018. Mr. Trump has set an unreasonable list of demands out that I do not think any realistic European or Congressional agreement could satisfy,” Richard Nephew, program director at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, told CNBC. Nephew served as the lead sanctions expert for the U.S. State Department negotiating with Iran from 2013 to 2014.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has verified Iran’s compliance, Trump continues to deride the agreement, calling for more sanctions on the Islamic Republic particularly for its ballistic missile program and human rights abuses, which were not part of the JCPOA. Trump announced on January 12 that if Congress and the deal’s European signatories did not fix the deal’s “disastrous flaws”, the U.S. would withdraw.

“The simple reality is that Trump hates the JCPOA even as he doesn’t understand it. And though his advisors are attempting to get him to think about it more pragmatically, their perennial struggles don’t auger well for its survival,” Nephew said.

Trump’s demands would require altering the original parameters of the deal. They include adding punitive measures for missile tests and regional activity, and amending “sunset clauses” that currently allow certain conditions to expire after a number of years. EU leaders and Russia have urged the U.S. to respect the integrity of the original arrangement.

‘However the president may not like the deal, however, he cannot legally end it without consensus from its other signatories. None of [them] have shown real appetite for a renegotiation of its terms, and have instead lobbied Trump to keep it. This will not change,” notes Pat Thaker, regional director for the Middle East and Africa at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Critics of the deal disagree, arguing that continued economic relief only empowers the country’s nuclear weapons pursuits and reward a regime that has ramped up its missile testing in recent months.

Newly-imposed U.S. sanctions unrelated to the deal target 14 individuals and groups in Iran’s military and judiciary, and have little effect on the country’s economy. But any moves to curtail economic relief for the country will kill the deal for the Iranians and prompt a comeback for hardline anti-western forces in government, analysts say.

Not all policy wonks have handed down such a negative prognosis. James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security adviser during the second Bush administration, told Politico the JCPOA can continue under Trump’s new demands.

“Trump is leaving the door open to staying in the agreement if France, Germany and the UK work with Washington,” he told the magazine.

Robert Litwak, director of international security studies at the Wilson Center and a member of Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, said whether the deal would live or die past May is hard to say, but that the choice will be difficult and walking away has serious downsides.

“If the United States unilaterally withdraws from the nuclear deal it would isolate Washington. It would change the dynamic from the United States and the world versus Iran to Iran and the world versus the United States,” Liwak told CNBC.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday also ruled out the possibility of salvaging the Iranian nuclear deal if President Donald Trump decides to pull the United States out of the agreement.

“This agreement cannot be implemented if one of the participants unilaterally steps out of it. It will fall apart and there will be no deal then. I think everyone understands that,” Lavrov told a news conference at the United Nations.

Russia and the United States are among the six world powers that signed the 2015 landmark deal with Iran that aims to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. Lavrov made clear that there would be no attempt by Russia to salvage it with the five remaining powers, if the United States pulls out.

“Russia will make every effort to persuade the United States not to touch this thing,” said Lavrov, saying that the deal was “not dead yet.”

The foreign minister again made the argument that killing off the Iran nuclear deal would also compromise any bid to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear arsenal.

“If the Iranian nuclear deal is not upheld, how can we ask North Korea to use the same option and abandon its nuclear ambitions,” Lavrov asked.