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How will the world react as Trump pulls out of Iran nuclear deal?
European powers and China have defended a landmark deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement and imposed sanctions on Tehran for the second time.
Trump's decision flies in the face of ten years of diplomacy and risks fuelling instability in the Middle East. It also threatens foreign trade in Iran worth billions of dollars.
“It is important that all concerns regarding the implementation of the plan be addressed through the mechanisms established in the JCPOA,” said Antonio Gutteres, the UN Secretary General.
Iran’s regional position today is much greater than it was a decade ago, and the United States government is much more isolated than it was a few years ago.
“Issues not directly related to the JCPOA should be addressed without prejudice to preserving the agreement and its accomplishments. The Secretary General calls on other JCPOA participants to abide fully by their respective commitments under the JCPOA, and all other member states to support this agreement,” he says.
In Iran itself, there was disappointment and anger. Members of the parliament burned a US flag, screaming “death to America”. Critics in Tehran say that all eyes are now on Europe, but there is not much trust:
“The photos and scene of the French president in front of Trump, basically pleading him to change his position and attempting to appease him and in return he got his dandruff flipped of his coat, I think was a sign of humiliation in the eyes of Iranians,” says Mohammad Marandi, an America watcher at Tehran University.
“The German chancellor too, when she went to the US, she got nothing in return,” he says.
The official reaction in Iran was harsh. “We will exercise our right to respond in a manner of our choosing,” said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a televised statement.
“Threats won’t get the US a new deal, particularly as it is not honouring the deal it already made, relying on cartoonish allegations, rehashed from more that a decade ago,” he says.
Iran’s economy is not strong.The partial lifting of the sanctions in July 2015 has not yet brought growth.
On Tuesday, just hours after Trump signed the proclamation outlining his intention to cancel US participation in the JCPOA, the US treasury produced a document saying that there would be a 90 day “wind-down period,” where the sanctions that were lifted will be restored. The implementation of the sanctions will be finalized on 6th of August.
These concern sanctions on trade in gold, raw materials, the automotive and aviation sectors.
A second wind-down period of 180 days will then end on November 4, and other sanctions, including those on financial institutions, insurance, energy, will be re-instated.
This may also mean that the US may punish European businesses that have signed big contracts in Iran, such as France’s Total oil company, which has recently signed a one billion dollar deal to exploit a major gas field.
Room for optimisim
In spite of that some remain optimistic. "Iran is beginning to trade with Russia, as well as China, as well as other countries like Turkey, with their own currencies,” says Marandi. “[It is also]refraining from using the US dollar.
“So there are new opportunities today that didn’t exist before. Iran’s regional position today is much [stronger] than it was a decade ago and the United States government is much more isolated than it was a few years ago.
“I don’t think the US will have the ability to create any significant coalition against Iran, especially since everyone sees the US as the side that is violating the agreement and the side that is behaving irrationally and dishonestly,” he says.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the major movers behind Trumps decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal with his relentless lobbying. But how did people in Israel react to this news?
“I myself, with many others, are concerned and a bit disappointed,” says former director of the Israeli Nuclear Energy Commission, General Uri Eilam, “ [This is] because Trump did not show any real possibility for cutting a new deal with the Iranians. What Trump has done is to cut this alternative and put Europeans, France, Germany, the UK, in a position that I’m not sure they know how to handle.
“And of course Russia and China will not go with Trump. The agreement today is still there. Iranians, perhaps, will be wise and smart to keep it and show that the US is the only one who is not abiding by the agreement,” he says.
The decision by Trump to pull out of the Iran deal must also be seen from a global perspective, at least by those who decide Washington’s international diplomacy.
“There is an important connection between what is happening on the Korean peninsula and what is happening in the Middle East,” says Sverre Lodgaard, a senior research fellow with the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs, pointing at the upcoming summit between North Korea’s leader Kim Jung-Un, and Trump.
At the end of his statement regarding the JCPOA, Trump disclosed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to North Korea to pave the way for the first ever US- North Korea summit in history.
“President Trump believes that maximum pressure on North Korea was necessary in order to set in motion what we see developing in recent months,” says Lodgaard.
“And he probably believes that maximum pressure is what is needed in the Middle East too, maximum pressure on Iran.
“It seems that in Washington, the regime change people are now very much in power. And I’m concerned that the challenge in the times ahead will be the same challenge that the Europeans stood up to at the end of 2003, the basic objective being to avoid war,” he says.
The big question now is how are the three European parties to the JCPOA going to react? Will they follow Washington, or will they side with Russia and China, leaving Washington alone with its allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, against the rest of the world?