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Foreign Policy

US Exit from Iran Nuclear Pact Escalates Middle East Tensions

May 21 , 2018
  • Wu Sike

    Member on Foreign Affairs Committee, CPPCC


Representatives from the original parties to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015

On May 8, US President Donald Trump unilaterally announced the US would withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal) and would reimpose sanctions against Iran. The Department of the Treasury immediately followed up by announcing sanction measures against Iran. This triggered outcry in the Middle East and across the world, and many Iranians took to the streets to protest. Military confrontations between Iran and Israel in relation to Syria subsequently escalated. On May 10, Israel launched strikes against Iranian military facilities in Syria in retaliation for Iranian rocket attacks launched from inside Syria into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. This was the largest military conflict between Israel and Iran since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011.

European countries also showed discontent about the US move and was worried that their economic cooperation with Iran would be disrupted and that turmoil in the Middle East would exacerbate the already fragile security situation in Europe. Other parties to the Iran nuclear pact were busy with new rounds of diplomatic activities to salvage the deal and minimize the negative effects of US’ unilateral action. The Middle East is becoming more unstable.

As early as during the presidential campaign, Trump called the Iran nuclear deal a “horrible”agreement, and now he has finally “honored his promise” to abandon the deal. Although the international community was already prepared for Trump’s move, it was still shocked and believed that it would escalate regional turmoil. The US’ European allies expressed their strong opposition to Trump’s action and considered it unacceptable. The JCPOA was a multilateral agreement reached by six nations (including all five permanent members of the UN Security Council), the European Union and Iran, and was endorsed by UN Security Resolution No 2231. It was an authoritative international pact and should be followed through and enforced by all parties, and its integrity and sanctity should be safeguarded. The deal was not only constructive in safeguarding the international nonproliferation regime, but also beneficial to promoting peace and stability in the Middle East, and played an exemplary role in solving hot issues through political means. After the pact was signed in July 2015, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was supervising the enforcement of the deal, sent people into Iran for inspection and verification, and confirmed that Iran had strictly performed its duties and obligations in enforcing and complying with the terms of the JCPOA. Therefore, the US should have no excuse to withdraw from the deal.

After Trump announced exit from the deal, the leaders of Germany, France, and Great Britain issued a joint statement, expressing regret over Trump’s decision, and urging the US to ensure that the structures of the JCPOA can remain intact and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal. Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, also said that the Iran nuclear pact was an “historic achievement” after rounds of diplomatic consultations, and no party could terminate it unilaterally. Iran said that Trump’s decision was “illegal” and “illegitimate”, but still said it would remain retrained, and stressed that “the deal is now the pact between Iran and five other parties”, and that Iran will remain party to it for the time being. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has started to visit the other signatories of the pact, including the EU, Russia, and China to seek their support.

The Middle East, rich with natural resources like oil and natural gas, has always been an important part of US global strategy. US reliance on crude imports has declined, but the US maintains its economic dominance through the petrodollar system, which is dependent on Middle Eastern oil. This was already evident from the fact that both President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s maiden foreign visits after assuming office were to the Middle East. The Trump administration’s Middle East policy, however, seems to be extremely capricious, and this has escalated confrontations among countries and factions in the region. The US, out of its own self-interest, has intentionally instigated conflicts in the Middle East. This would likely lead to a new arms race. The US decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal made solving hot issues in Syria and Yemen even more difficult. It also poses grave challenges to the global nonproliferation regime.

China, a signatory to the JCPOA, has invested much effort in reaching and implementing the deal, and is still committed to maintaining it. After the US withdrawal, China continues to maintain close contacts with relevant parties, and calls on all parties concerned to take a responsible attitude, bear in mind the long-term and overall picture, and stay committed to the political and diplomatic solution. The Middle East is now at a critical point, and immediate actions are needed to ease the tensions. Any capricious unilateral actions cannot longer be tolerated. All parties should return, as soon as possible, to the right path of upholding and implementing the deal, and this is the expectation and aspiration of the international community.

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