His decision to defy US allies is a triumph of brawn over brain. It also represents a major shift in American foreign policy and undermines one of Barak Obama’s major achievements when in office.
Even though the chief of the UN’s atomic watchdog reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime”, Trump has left it to the US Congress the decision whether or not to reimpose sanctions on Iran.
His decision puts Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord such as Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union. It also undermines the credibility of the US at a time when it is already at an all-time low.
In a joint statement, British prime ,inister Theresa May, French president Emmanuel Macron, and German chancellor Angela Merkel said they “stand committed to its full implementation by all sides”, clearly making the point that, as it is a multilateral agreement, it is not up to Trump to decide whether it stays in place or not. There is little doubt, though, that if the US decides to renege fully from the deal it would be all but dead.
In an address to the nation, Trump claimed that Iran had committed multiple violations of the agreement, even though international inspectors have repeatedly said that it remains in compliance.
His decision is dangerous in a number of ways. Firstly, it will ensure the triumph of the hawks not only in the US but also Iran and Israel. In a televised address, which followed Mr Trump’s comments, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said his country would now redouble its efforts to build weapons for “deterrence” and to expand its missile programme. If that happens, it will certainly bring the agreement to an end and heighten tensions in the region.
A newly invigorated nuclear weapons programme is something that neigbouring Israel will not tolerate, bringing the prospect of a pre-emptive strike against Iran ever closer. That was the situation that pertained more than a decade ago before negotiations began on halting nuclear weapons production.
Trump’s belicose speech was, predictably, welcomed by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeing it as “an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran’s aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism”.
Israel’s intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, said the move was “very significant” and could lead to war, given threats that preceded it from Tehran.
The decision also has implications far beyond the Middle East and could, in fact, lead to a new proliferation of nuclear weapons by unstable regimes like North Korea.
Any attempt to reign in Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambitions through international pressure and sanctions, followed by a similar agreement is now almost impossible.