The U.S. Should Rejoin the Nuclear Deal Without New Demands
Ilan Goldenberg and Eric Brewer call for the next president to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA):
The first question a hypothetical 2020 election victor (not to mention candidates on the campaign trail) will face is whether or not the United States should re-enter the deal. The answer should be a resounding yes. The Iran nuclear deal is one of the most robust and detailed nuclear agreements ever achieved, and when the United States withdrew, the deal was working exactly as designed: Iran’s nuclear program was drastically curtailed, and the U.S. ability to detect any Iranian attempt to build a bomb—should its ambitions ever change—was significantly improved. Most importantly, Iran was adhering to the deal and continues to do so. If the United State re-enters the deal, these benefits will persist.
The authors are right about all of this, so it is more than a little odd that they then go on to argue that a future president shouldn’t settle for reentering the agreement as it currently exists. If the deal does all that they claim (and it does), it would be churlish at best to insist on extracting additional concessions from the party that has been complying with the agreement the entire time. Goldenberg and Brewer wrongly frame U.S. reentry as a concession to Iran, as if our government is doing them a favor to rejoin an agreement that our government helped create at their expense:
Since Tehran has decided that abiding by the nuclear deal is in its interests despite Washington’s withdrawal, a U.S. return and the corresponding sanctions relief would essentially be a unilateral concession to Iran. Washington will have the ability to ask for something in return.
The authors want to punish Iran for honoring the agreement despite U.S. violations by expecting Iran to give up even more than it already has. Whatever else one wants to say about this, it will be a non-starter in Tehran, and it should be. If the positions were reversed, our government would never consider offering even more to the party that reneged on its commitments, and we shouldn’t expect other governments to behave any differently.
Instead of simply rejoining the deal, the authors propose that a future administration “should use the leverage gained from Trump’s exit—however much they might disagree with that decision—to come to some preliminary understandings with Iran on the many issues of contention that remain in the relationship and on the future of Iran’s nuclear program.” In other words, they want the next administration to make our government’s reentry into an agreement that it should never have left conditional on the Iranian government’s willingness to negotiate on other issues that they have already said they won’t talk about. More to the point, Iranian officials have made U.S. reentry the precondition for any future negotiations, so they aren’t going to participate in haggling with the U.S. over the price of rejoining the agreement.
Goldenberg and Brewer have taken a straightforward, sensible position–urging the U.S. rejoin the JCPOA–and warped it almost beyond recognition. They add that the U.S. “should also be realistic and not ask for too much, since it is in the United States’ interest to go back into the agreement,” but that raises the obvious question: why make additional demands to get us to do something that already serves U.S. interests? The attempt to overreach and profit from Trump’s previous deal-breaking is foolish and greedy, and Iran isn’t going to play along. This sort of unnecessary foot-dragging on the part of a future administration would be just the thing to convince Iran’s leaders to give up on the JCPOA all together. If Iran’s government has been hoping to wait out Trump, they will not respond favorably to more pressure tactics after Trump is out of office. The authors have just provided an outline of what the next administration definitely shouldn’t do when rejoining the JCPOA. I hope none of the 2020 candidates adopts their recommendations.