President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday, May 8 that he is rolling back the Iran nuclear deal, and Barack Obama is not happy, to say the least. Obama's response to Trump ending the Iran deal didn't pull any punches or leave much open to interpretation. He was clear, especially when he explicitly wrote that pulling out of the deal is a "serious mistake."
Trump announced he would be pulling out of the Iran deal at 2 p.m. ET, calling it a "one-sided" deal. The deal was created to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, mostly by routinely inspecting their nuclear facilities in exchange for the U.S. and other allies lifting crippling economic sanctions against Iran. But Trump argued that, instead of stopping Iran from creating nuclear weapons, the agreement only allowed Iran to continue its activities without the effects of the sanctions. Trump justified breaking the deal using documents released by Israel, a longtime adversary of Iran, on May 1. The documents allegedly show that Iran has continued to test and build weapons, but U.S. intelligence officials had known that information for years and said that it did not actually prove that Iran had broken its side of the agreement, according to NBC News.
The deal, negotiated and finalized under Obama, included several of our allies, such as the U.K., France and Germany. Many leaders of those nations have responded less than favorably to Trump's announcement, and they're not alone. The former president had a few choice words about one of his biggest policy achievements.
In a lengthy post on Facebook, less than two hours after Trump's announcement, Obama laid out exactly why he thinks the move is a mistake. He started by saying the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), works, and that walking away from the deal would hurt international trust in agreements the U.S. makes and would leave our allies hanging.
In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration [sic] to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.
He then dove into some of the claims that had been made about the deal, saying he would "review several facts." He laid it out in six fairly simple points: it's an international agreement, it works, it doesn't rely on trust (which was one of Trump's biggest points, that it only relied on trust), Iran is keeping up its end of the deal, it doesn't expire and it wasn't meant to fix everything.
That last point is pretty important because Trump used Iran's support of terrorists as a reason to throw out the deal in favor of sanctions. Obama noted that although Iran may engage in behavior the U.S. condemns, he still believes this deal is the best approach to dealing with Iran. He explained that the deal should be maintained partly because of Iran's troubling behavior, because it prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons and escalating conflicts in the region.
Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.
For those reasons, he wrote, he thinks pulling out of the deal is a big mistake and that the lack of this deal could lead to another war in the Middle East, not to mention trigger a worldwide nuclear arms race. So, not good.
And the early indicators of Iran's response are not reassuring. One of the biggest goals of the deal was to stop Iran from enriching uranium, which is used to create nuclear weapons. And shortly after Trump's announcement, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he would start enriching uranium again "in the next few weeks" if the deal couldn't be renegotiated with the other countries that originally signed it.
The deal was signed in July 2015 by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany, and ended 12 years of a stalemate in negotiating over Iran's nuclear program. In exchange for lifting sanctions, Iran agreed to limit enrichment of uranium and plutonium, to disable some of its centrifuges and to be inspected often. Uranium and plutonium are both materials used in nuclear energy and nuclear weapons (although at different enrichment levels, which is how its monitored), and centrifuges are used to create enriched uranium. According to The Guardian, Iran got rid of 98 percent of its enriched uranium, shut down two-thirds of its centrifuges and filled its plutonium reactor with concrete. Moreover, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the group that was designated to monitor Iranian nuclear production, has inspected the country 10 times in the years since the agreement was signed, with the most recent inspection in February. All of those times, the agency found Iran to be complying with the terms of the agreement.
Despite that, Trump has been a vocal critic of the Iran deal since his campaign during the 2016 election, which isn't very surprising coming from the "America first" candidate.
To boot, this move to pull out of the Iran deal is just the most recent example of Trump's isolationist approach to foreign policy. He has repeatedly pulled out or threatened to pull out of international treaties and agreements. During the campaign, he threatened to pull out of NAFTA, a trade agreement among North American countries, and NATO, an alliance made with European nations after WWII. Then, in June 2017, he actually did it when Trump announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Paris Climate agreement, which was created to help countries combat climate change.
Trump's approach to foreign policy and his decision to pull out of the Iran deal could have drastic effects for the U.S. and for the Middle East. Some critics — such as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power — say the move could undermine America's credibility and also limit freedoms for Iranian people as well as destabilize the region as a whole.
So basically, this ain't great.