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US withdrawal from Iran deal can't lead to any good

Whether you’re an importer of high-end Persian rugs or simply someone who values global peace, you have cause to be concerned about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal.

There are a number of scenarios that may now play out in the wake of Trump’s decision — too many to list in full here. But allow me to sketch out the best- and worst-case scenarios.

Let’s start with the best-case scenario.

This involves the preservation of the agreement by the remaining parties of the JCPOA — Iran, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China. Leaders of multiple parties, including Iran, have expressed hope for the deal's survival. Iran President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech Tuesday he has directed his diplomats to negotiate with the remaining parties to keep the deal.

In this scenario, Iran would continue to observe the JCPOA’s terms of inspection and limits on enrichment of nuclear materials. The U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China would continue to refrain from sanctioning Iran’s economy for its nuclear activities.

Meanwhile, the U.S. would plow ahead with the implementation of sanctions. Trump has already announced the full reinstatement of the sanctions lifted under the JCPOA in 2015, and, according to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said more are likely to come.

The sanctions will hurt the American economy by preventing U.S. firms from conducting business in Iran and possibly boosting global oil prices, but they will hurt the Iranian economy more severely. Economic relief is Iran’s only incentive to maintain the JCPOA, and new U.S. sanctions risk removing that incentive.

Will the other parties to the JCPOA go along with a renewed U.S. campaign to put economic pressure on Iran, despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has consistently verified Iran’s compliance? That was always a doubtful prospect, and everything those states have said since Trump's announcement indicates they will not join the U.S.'s stance. Leaders of France, Germany and the U.K. jointly issued a press release stating their hopes to preserve the deal. The foreign ministries of Russia and China have said the same.

This has already driven a wedge between the U.S. and its European allies, and that wedge could get a lot bigger in six months, when the Department of the Treasury says it is scheduled to sanction foreign financial institutions, including state banks, that purchase oil and other products from Iranian financial institutions.

Key U.S. allies like South Korea, Japan and India are already starting to seek waivers to continue importing Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions, according to Reuters.

Iran’s economy has seen benefits from the deal, but not enough to discredit Iranian politicians who oppose it. If unilateral U.S. sanctions have any significant effect, the deal’s Iranian opponents may prevail.

Iran's Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said at a press briefing on Iranian state television last month the government is considering withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the very basis of all international non-proliferation efforts. Even President Rouhani, the one who made the deal, threatened in his speech Tuesday to start enriching uranium beyond the limits of the deal if it can't be salvaged.

That would herald the collapse of the JCPOA, which brings us to the worst-case scenario: war with Iran. 

That is the dream of Bolton, who has been clamoring for pre-emptive strikes on Iran for years. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would likely be amenable to such an outcome as well.

It may come about as a result of pre-emptive strikes by Israel, the U.S. or both, but it would be a catastrophic war.

Trump is hoping for a third scenario: Iran caves in to his and Prime Minister Netanyahu's absurd demands and prostrates itself before its enemies, agreeing to forfeit its right to a conventional ballistic missile program and its regional influence, all in exchange for continuance of the shaky economic relief it was entitled to under the original deal.

Fat chance.

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