IPCS US Election Special

The Iran Deal Under a Trump Presidency

07 Nov, 2016    ·   5169

Kimberley Anne Nazareth considers the implications for the JCPOA under Donald Trump as president

With the US only just days away from electing its 45th President, it is important to understand and analyse Republican candidate Donald Trump’s stance on the Join Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran deal. Much has been said about his opposition to the Iran deal. However, there will likely be little to no change in US' official position on the deal even in the event of a Trump presidency. This article looks at the reasons why.

Trump’s Rhetoric
Donald Trump’s anti-Iran deal statements over the course of his election campaign have changed from being purely anti-deal during the primaries to lukewarm opposition after the Republican Convention of July 2016. This is visible from his statements on the issue - from calling it “one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history,” to his statement at a rally in September, where he said, “When I am elected president, I will renegotiate with Iran…and ask Congress to impose new sanctions that stop Iran from having the ability to sponsor terrorism around the world.” In September itself, he spoke about keeping the deal at an MSNBC interview: “We have  a horrible contract, but we do have a contract…”

The main aim of the Iran deal was to postpone Iran’s ability to weaponise, rather than completely cutting off Iran’s access to nuclear technology. In many ways Donald Trump’s anti-deal statements simply seem to reinforce the Republican position, which for the most part is against the deal, but the rhetoric has changed over time. So the bigger question is that if he wins, would all this rhetoric be translated into action?

Even if Trump were to try to renegotiate the deal, a number of factors would have to be considered. Firstly, the deal took more than three years and a great deal of bargaining to come to fruition. Secondly, the deal is multilateral in nature, signed between Iran and the P5+1. Therefore if the US under Trump were to consider withdrawing/renegotiating the deal, the sanctions-wise impact would be minimal on Iran as the strongest sanctions came from the European countries who continue to support the deal. 

There is also an economic factor involved. After the deal was implemented earlier this year, some P5 nations, including China and Russia, signed multiple deals with Iran. For instance, a US$800 million dollar defence cooperation deal was signed with Russia and a trade deal approximating US$600 billion was signed with China. Companies have also signed deals with Iran, such as Boeing, to the tune of US$30-40 billion. The linkages established through these economic deals will further strengthen the foundation of the nuclear deal itself.

On the down side, the Republicans are using the ‘regional card’ to their advantage in opposing the deal. US' regional allies have opposed the deal since negotiations began, fearing a nuclear Iran and the impact of sanctions relief allowing Iran greater leverage in the region, especially over US' allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It would be difficult for Trump to bring about major changes in the deal - he would be damned if did and dammed if didn’t. If he keeps the deal, he will be held accountable for the 4 to 8 critical years of the deal when Iran could strengthen its enriching technology. On the other hand, if he takes any action against the deal and consequently, Iran, he will be criticised for destroying the deal and the rapprochement it facilitated with Iran. In terms of legacy, irrespective of what happens, he will be have to answer his support base for a 'nuclear Iran' either by acts of commission or by acts omission.

However, in a presidential election year, it is not only the White House that is up for grabs but the House of Representatives and the Senate as well. The Republican Party (though commonly known for its anti-deal stance) is not monolithic; there are those within the party that have supported the deal, which will also have to be considered. If the Democrats take over both houses, bargaining and comprise will be an uphill battle. 

Trump really has only one option: that of conducting business as usual. A reason for this is that the very nature of the deal - Trump will have to stick by the JCPOA irrespective of the regional and domestic complications.