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Iran’s Minimal Response to U.S. Violations of the Nuclear Deal

President Trump and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com, European External Action Service/Flickr

A year after the U.S. started violating its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran has taken minimal measures to protest the fact that it is getting virtually nothing that it was promised:

Iran said Wednesday it will stop respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a landmark 2015 deal unless other powers help Tehran bypass renewed US sanctions, amid rising tensions with Washington.

The move was part of a package of measures announced by Iran in response to the sweeping unilateral sanctions reimposed by Washington in the 12 months since it quit the agreement, which have had a severe effect on the Iranian economy.

Because the U.S. has been violating its part of the agreement for a year, Iran is within its rights under the deal to take these steps. Iran is otherwise still fulfilling its end of the bargain. The Iranian government’s goal is to pressure the other parties to the agreement by raising the prospect of the collapse of the deal in the future. The important thing to bear in mind is that this is a very limited set of measures, and it shows that Iran doesn’t want to exit the deal if it doesn’t have to. Tightening U.S. sanctions in spite of its compliance for the last three years have made it increasingly difficult to justify remaining party to an agreement from which it derives no benefits. The Trump administration has been relentlessly pushing to make Iran abandon the deal, and that means that U.S. sanctions are responsible for provoking this response.

The Trump administration wants to force Iran out of the deal, so a measured response from Iran doesn’t give them what they have been looking for. Iran hawks have always hated the deal because it deprives them of a pretext for conflict, and that is why they have been trying so hard to wreck the deal from the beginning. Hard-liners in the administration want a crisis with Iran over the nuclear issue as soon as possible. The Iranian government is still giving the Europeans, Russia, and China time to give them an incentive to stay in the deal, and they are assuming that the other parties want to avoid a crisis as much as Iran does.

As a nonproliferation agreement, the JCPOA has worked exactly as intended. The ceaseless efforts by this administration to destroy a successful nonproliferation agreement are utterly irrational if the goal is to prevent Iran from having the ability to develop and build nuclear weapons, but of course the administration’s goal is quite different. They don’t want the nuclear issue resolved, but rather need it to ratchet up tensions. For Iran’s part, the deal has been a bitter disappointment and the administration’s betrayal of U.S. commitments has left them with fewer and fewer options. Iran’s government is still hoping to wait out the Trump administration, but unless the other parties to the agreement make more of an effort to keep the JCPOA alive the hard-liners in Iran may win the argument about what to do next.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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