If I understand the reporting correctly, the decision actually looming for President Trump on May 12 is a procedural one: whether to continue waivers of some of the U.S. sanctions on Iran effected as a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the actual title of the agreement limiting Iranian nuclear activity) (the “JCPOA”). Although there may be a question whether the U.S. will, from a technical standpoint, actually be withdrawing from the JCPOA if the President allows the waivers to lapse, Iran is clearly indicating that that it will deem any reinstitution of sanctions to be a violation of the arrangement, and that it will be free to renew the nuclear-related activity from which it has apparently abstained in accordance with the terms of the deal.
Whether the JCPOA is a “good deal” or a “bad deal” will be debated for decades to come. I absolutely lack the acumen to venture a reasoned opinion, although it did seem to me a bit Pollyannaish to think that Iran, with a heritage dating back to the Persian Empire, a tradition of seeking influence beyond its borders, and a current established record of state-sponsored terrorism, would mellow sufficiently during the operative term of the arrangement such that it wouldn’t take the steps necessary to become a major nuclear threat as the restrictions wore off. More importantly, two Americans who have my deepest respect in the realm of foreign affairs – Henry Kissinger and John McCain — expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of the deal before it was executed.
That said, all reports indicate that the international inspectors charged with monitoring Iran’s JCPOA compliance currently consider Iran to be in compliance. Absent any evidence that Iran has violated the terms of the JCPOA, I would assert that it will be the gravest of errors if the President takes actions that result in the degradation or dissolution of the agreement. Although commentators supporting the arrangement have come up with a raft of strategic and practical considerations why a de facto withdrawal from the deal is bad for the U.S., my basis is more fundamental: Good deal or bad, we agreed to it. It doesn’t matter, in this context, if we should have held out for permanent prohibitions on Iran’s nuclear-related activities, if Iran has types of non-nuclear weapons we consider significant threats, or if Iran is engaging in behaviors we don’t like, etc., etc., etc. While we should move aggressively through other means to thwart Iran’s untoward activities outside the scope of the JCPOA, if Iran is sticking to the terms of the JCPOA, we should. We gave our word. It’s that simple.