Emma Emeozor; [email protected]
President Donald Trump made good his threat to pull the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA), an interim agreement on the Iran nuclear deal, on May 9, 2018. The American president had made the announcement to the discomfort of France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia, who had pleaded with him not to scuttle the deal. Trump had in October 2017 vowed not to re-certify the agreement, which was reached on July 14, 2015, after years of negotiations.
The primary objective of the JCOPA is to curb Iran’s nuclear programme and ensure that it is essentially for domestic use. Under the agreement, international nuclear inspectors will, among others, have access to Iran’s nuclear sites periodically. Parties to the agreement also agreed that economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted. The United States participated in the negotiations and the consequent endorsement of the agreement under the administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Even though Obama believes that the agreement was strong enough to cage Iran, Trump described it as not only “defective” but the “worst deal ever.” He insisted that the terms of the agreement were not adequate to deter Iran from abusing the nuclear programme.
Describing Iran as a “regime of great terror,” he said, “Today’s action sends a critical message. The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them. As we exit the Iran deal, we will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian threat.”
He warned: “We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions,” adding that “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”
Since the announcement of US withdrawal from the deal, there has been mixed reactions from across the world. The P+5 countries that signed the agreement, including the European Union (EU), Obama, Iran and its allies have expressed dismay over Trump’s action. The EU has said it will ease sanctions on Iran. On the other hand, Israel and Saudi Arabia have backed Trump’s decision.
In this report, Dr. Joshua Olusegun Bolarinwa, a research fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, and foreign affairs analysts, examines the implications of Trump’s decision as well as the reactions that have trailed it.
Bolarinwa did not vacillate when he said he was not taken aback by Trump’s decision. “I received the news with no shock, with no surprises because I already envisaged it. I already knew what was likely to happen with the trend of events that took place before the announcement, noting French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the White House, the pressure from the German government and the visit of the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Trump’s unrelenting or what I will call ‘unrepentant’ stance over the Iran deal,” he said.
He observed that “there are many issues on ground that those who tried to desuade Trump from carrying out his threat did not understand.” According to Bolarinwa, the issues include the sack of former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, the allegation made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ongoing talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme and Iran’s support for the Syrian government.
He argued that Trump sacked Tillerson because of the Iran nuclear deal, among other matters.
“Trump said he was not pleased with the way Tillerson had handled the matter. Though Trump was not also satisfied with Tillerson’s handling of the Russia crisis, the shady manner he handled the Iran issue was the main reason he was sacked,” Bolarinwa said.
The research fellow wondered why those who wanted to stop Trump from pulling the US out of the deal failed to understand the sensitive allegation Netanyahu made against Iran when he alleged Tehran was not being sincere on the objectives of its nuclear programme and that it was showing international nuclear inspectors fake sites whereas it was secretly enriching its nuclear weapons programme. He believes Netanyahu’s allegation helped to “scatter” the “whole deal.”
“I use the word ‘scatter’ in quote because the Israeli government has one of the best intelligence in the world. They have always followed and monitored what goes on in the Middle East,” he said.
Why did the Israeli prime minister choose to make his allegation at a time pressure was on Trump not to scuttle the deal? Bolarinwa has an answer. He believes it was part of the tit-for-tat relationship between Israel and Iran: “Israel and Iran have always been at one another’s throat. They have never been friends. They have always accused each other at one time or the other. And that was why Netanyahu had to pass his message not only to Trump and the entire world but to Iran, also at a crucial time when pressure was on Trump. Netanyahu had to conclude his statement that Iran lied.”
“Netanyahu’s allegation encouraged Trump to implement his decision because it gave him the conviction that, truly, Iran was not was not observing the terms of the agreement holistically. The reasoning is simple, if a country like Israel can come out with such intelligence report, why would the US, a strong ally of Israel, not believe it?” he said.
Bolarinwa also believes that the success achieved so far by Trump in his bid to force North Korea to the negotiation table over its nuclear programme may have given the American leader the impetus to dash the Iran deal. “As unholy, as secretive as the North Korean nuclear weapons programme had been right from the days of President Kim Jong-un’s father, former President Kim Jong-il, the way Trump has handled the situation has shown, if somebody stands on his feet and insists on what he believes in, positive results can be achieved.
“We can see his stand on North Korea, the pressure on China, Japan and South Korea, it has produced positive results. As we talk, North Korea has released three American detainees. Again, reports have shown that Iran has been secretly supporting the Syrian government for a long time now. It is only Russia that has come out openly to say it is backing the Bashar al-Assad government. Iran has a military base in Syria and it keeps enriching that government with weapons to fight the civil war.”
Bolarinwa considers Iran a stubborn country that cannot not be persuaded easily to hands off violent acts. He was quick to cite Iran’s missile attacks on the Golan Heights recently.
He said, “Because of Trump’s decision to pull out of the deal, because of the report made by Israel, the Iranian government launched 20 missile attacks on Israeli territory in the Golan Heights. Expectedly, Israel gave a swift, unrepentant response. Israeli shield covered all the 20 missiles and they could not do any harm. France, Germany, Russia and other powers had to call for restraint to stop Israel from further action. So, from this brief analysis, it can be understood why I was not surprised over Trump’s action.”
Asked what the next chapter might be, Bolarinwa said the Iran nuclear deal would have to be re-negotiated because, “it is clear Trump will not rescind his decision, except they go back to the drawing board. And that is what is going to happen although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been trying to ‘toast’ European powers, particularly France and Germany, to ignore the US and go ahead with the deal in its present form. Russia is Iran’s ally and, therefore, would always give its support to Tehran.
“But what can European powers do without America? One of the implications of Trump’s position is that America will impose more sanctions on Iran. Iran’s economy will be affected as the sale of its products will be restricted in the international market. In other words, America’s sanctions on Iran’s goods automatically affect Europeans. Therefore, what countries like France, Britain and Germany would do is to reconsider their position and support the US and seek a re-start of negotiations and thorough inspection of Iran’s nuclear sites and everything linked to them.”
Accuse Bolarinwa of not seeing anything wrong in Trump’s ‘harsh’ decision, he first shrugs, and then protests: “I am not supporting Trump, rather, I am clearly saying the truth and it looks like I am supporting him. What I am trying to say is that what Trump has done is not new, not a shock.”
When asked if Trump acted right in ignoring the other world powers who signed the agreement, Bolarinwa responded cautiously: “Before I say yes or no, I hope the public understands why Trump pulled out. It is not about the pressure the other leaders put on him, rather, it is about the fact that the talks that resulted in the agreement had not been straight-forward, so he (Trump) cannot go ahead with the deal.
“Perhaps, I should use the example of the recent African Continental Free Trade Area agreement to explain my position. Nigeria and some other countries did not go to Rwanda to sign the agreement and they gave their reason(s). They said they were not properly briefed and, therefore, they need to study the terms of the agreement before deciding to sign it. America, under Trump’s administration, found itself in the same position Nigeria and other countries found themselves in the issue of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement.”
Bolarinwa does not agree with the argument that Trump took the decision to please America’s Middle East allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia. Rather, he wants the public to note that Iran has committed many atrocities in the Middle East region. “Iran is fuelling conflict in the Middle East, particularly sectarian violence. It is one of the biggest agents of destabilsation in the region, it is the only country in the region that is supporting Syria. When the Arab Spring began and it spread to Syria in 2011, between April and June, before the escalation of the conflict, which resulted in the civil war, the population of the country was about 21 million, but now, nearly half of the number has gone into exile as refugees in Europe and other countries in the Middle East or as internally displaced persons or even killed. And the US government is aware of this.”
As one of the architects of the JCOPA, Obama was swift in condemning Trump’s decision. He described it as “so misguided” and a “serious mistake.” Obama said: “There are few issues more important to the security of the US than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. That’s why the US negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place”.
He further argued that: “The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working. This is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest, it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear programme.”
Obama’s former Secretary of State, John Kerry, also reacted, saying: “Today’s announcement weakens our security, breaks America’s word, isolates us from our European allies, puts Israel at greater risk, empowers Iran’s hardliners, and reduces our global leverage to address Tehran’s misbehaviour, while damaging the ability of future administrations to make international agreements.”
He did not stop there. “No rhetoric is required,” Kerry continued, adding that “the facts speak for themselves. Instead of building on unprecedented nonproliferation verification measures, this decision risks throwing them away and dragging the world back to the brink we faced a few years ago.”
But Bolarinwa described statements issued by Obama and Kerry as “political statements.” He said Obama, Kerry and the Democrats who have expressed dismay over Trump’s action are “expressing their views as it suits them.”
On the probability that the jettisoning of the agreement by the US government could trigger a new regime of terrorism in the Middle East and beyond, Bolarinwa said he does not see that happening: “Don’t let us join the bandwagon. There will be no new regime of terrorism. Saudi Arabia has taken some sweeping measures to check terrorism and other crimes, following Trump’s visit to that country and the discussion he had with the monarch, based on intelligence report.”
On Iran’s interests in the Middle East, Bolarinwa believes Tehran wants to develop nuclear weapons to rival Saudi Arabia. “It also wants to control the region, to do what Saddam Hussein did in Iraq.”
He put his argument in perspective when he said, “If you go down memory lane, one of the visions seen by Nostradamus was that a World War III would occur and it would start from the Middle East. A monster will rise up and America and its allies will stand to tame it before it results in another World War. That is what the Bible has recorded as the Armageddon. World War III will end all wars. The same vision is in the Koran. So, whatever America is doing now is to tame a country like Iran whose exigencies and excesses may not be controllable in the future, if allowed to have nuclear weapons or capability.”