On May 8, President Trump did what he had promised to do before taking office. The US is no longer a party to the Iran nuclear deal. It will immediately reinstate the sanctions that had been waived under that agreement and add new penalties drawn up by the Treasury Department. The restrictive measures limit Iran’s oil sales, which impacts a broad swath of the Iranian economy, as well as many large firms in the United States and Europe. He made this move despite the fact that the IAEA, the UN agency that monitors nuclear compliance, claims Tehran has so far complied with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Trump believes that agreement has fundamental flaws: it does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its regional “expansion” policy and does not prevent its acquisition of nuclear capability at some point down the road (some provisions expire in 2025).
We do not yet know whether Tehran will withdraw or stay in the deal, trying to salvage what’s left of it and cooperating with Russia, China, and the EU — the other parties to the JCPOA, whose opinion Washington ignored in favor of boosting its own ties to Israel and the Persian Gulf monarchies: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain. Tehran had previously warned it could go back to enriching uranium the way it did before the agreement was signed, if Washington pulled out.
Great Britain, Germany, and France regret the US decision. They claim the deal is the best way to keep tabs on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but they were all snubbed by the US, which turned its back on its closest allies. The EU declared that it would remain a party to the JCPOA, but National Security Adviser John Bolton warned the Europeans that any of their companies that are doing business in Iran have just six months to wind down their operations before they face US sanctions. For some reason, the US wants German businesses to cease their activities in Iran immediately. Clearly Washington feels it is in a position to dictate its own terms and speak in the language of ultimatums. It has no time to waste on civilities.
The government of Iran is under attack from the right for having trusted America, the “Great Satan,” and the Iranian people are expected to unite in support of the regime the US so badly wants to see toppled.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is "deeply concerned,” along with America’s closest allies, such as Australia and Japan. Turkey disapproves of the move. Moscow has expressed its disappointment at the US decision, noting that this unilateral action constitutes a breach of international law. China has joined Russia in reaffirming its own commitment to the JCPOA.
Overall there is an absence of international support for America’s flagrant violation of the agreement. The decision to withdraw is damaging US credibility and putting the country at odds with the major world powers. It took the six parties and Iran 10 years of hard work to reach the accord. Now all those efforts have gone down the drain — another indictment of the “America First” policy. Washington has already made unilateral decisions to leave the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without any deference to the opinions of anyone else, including its best friends. NAFTA and the trade agreements with China are to be either renegotiated on America’s terms or canceled. Pacta sunt servanda is viewed as a basic principle of behavior for everyone but the US. The question arises — should North Korea trust any agreements it might reach with the United States?
So the US does not believe that it is possible for any agreement, be it an amended JCPOA or something else, to prevent Iran from going nuclear or working on long-range ballistic missiles. Then what can? The alternative is military action. There are signs indicating we’re in for a big war. The troops in Syria and Iraq, as well as the USS Harry Truman carrier strike group, are in stand-by mode. US commandos are already fighting pro-Iranian forces in Yemen. On May 6, pro-Iranian Hezbollah made a strong showing in the Lebanese elections. Lebanon is a powder keg that can kindle a wider conflict. The pro-Iranian forces look strong heading into Iraq’s May 12 elections.
The US is not the only NATO member keeping its forces in the region on high alert. The preparations are underway. The US-led SDF is ramping up its operations in Syria. Officially the enemy is whatever is left of ISIS, but the SDF has already clashed with the Syria army and its pro-Iranian supporters.
By honoring its JCPOA commitments, the US along with Iran was preventing a war. With the deal torn up, conflict becomes very likely. In general terms, the scenario and consequences of that conflict can be predicted and described. A short victorious war is exactly what is required to boost the US president’s approval ratings and improve the Republicans’ chances before the November mid-term elections.