The Iran Deal: Not Perfect, But Better Than Nothing

One of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promises was the renegotiation or termination of the Iran deal, which he described as “the worst deal ever negotiated.” This would be a miscalculation and a mistake.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly referred to as the Iran deal, is actually a textbook example of the skill of American diplomacy in action. Further, the deal cannot be practically renegotiated, and dropping out would be a huge blow to American interests.

Although the deal is kicked about in the press, on the merits, it can be considered a success. First and foremost, the deal neutered Tehran’s growing nuclear program. Iran had been accumulating centrifuges used for enriching uranium at Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities and manufacturing heavy water at the Arak reactor to construct a nuclear device.

The terms of the JCPOA, however, reduced Iranian stockpiles of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent, entirely eliminated its stockpiles of medium-enriched uranium, removed every single advanced centrifuge, cut the level of first-generation, low-tech centrifuges by about two-thirds, and saw the core of the plutonium reactor at Arak unceremoniously filled with concrete to destroy it.

In exchange for the destruction of its military nuclear program, Iran saw some economic benefits from the international community. Elements of its foreign assets were unfrozen by the United States, and some United Nations sanctions were lifted, giving some wiggle room for the Iranian economy.

These sanctions are not lifted lightly, though; the Iran deal is based on verification, not trust. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are given full and unfettered access to all Iranian nuclear facilities through the JCPOA, and any reported violations of the agreement on Tehran’s end will result in the automatic reinstatement of sanctions.

While the deal is not perfect, as no international agreement ever is, dropping out of the JCPOA would be a major blunder. First, the benefits to Iran were frontloaded. One of the first things that happened after enactment was the unfreezing of Iranian assets in American banks.

This allowed Iran to be sure that the United States would hold up its end of the bargain, and by now those funds have been repatriated. To trigger the collapse of the deal now would essentially hand the Iranians a major victory, having lost little and gained a significant financial windfall.

Second, to withdraw from the deal would cost American diplomats credibility in any future negotiations with other countries. If we simply renege on our promises, what good is our word? Abandoning the Iran deal would signal to any negotiating partners of the United States that agreements made with Washington are good for only four years at a time, far less than the life of many international agreements!

Considering this deal was negotiated between Iran and a coalition made up of the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia, Germany and the European Union, this loss of trust would apply to both our allies and our adversaries.

Finally, withdrawing from the deal would undermine the core strategic goal of the whole project: to keep Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

This deal allowed us a view into the Iranian system, gave us the ability to halt production of the materials needed to create a nuclear weapon, and gives us a 15-year period to monitor Iran’s actions. To abandon this deal would in effect give Tehran an opportunity to kick out the international inspectors and pave the road toward the construction of a nuclear weapon.

First posted as an opinion column in the Greenfield Daily Reporter. The original can be found here.

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