Expert: No “Realistic” Iran Deal Could Meet Trump’s “Unreasonable” Demands

Expert: No “Realistic” Iran Deal Could Meet Trump’s “Unreasonable” Demands Expert: No “Realistic” Iran Deal Could Meet Trump’s “Unreasonable” Demands

No "realistic" agreement could fulfill US President Donald Trump's "unreasonable" demands from European powers and congress over Iran's nuclear deal, says a senior American political expert.

Trump agreed to waive sanctions on the Islamic Republic in mid-January as part of the 2015 nuclear pact but pledged that this time it was the country's "last chance", threatening a US walkout.

Richard Nephew, who served as the lead sanctions expert for the US State Department negotiating with Iran from 2013 to 2014, believes that Trump's conditions may result in the collapse of the nuclear deal.

"I am very concerned that it will not survive May 2018. Mr. Trump has set an unreasonable list of demands out that I do not think any realistic European or congressional agreement could satisfy," Nephew, program director at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, told CNBC in an interview published on Friday.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed by all five United Nations Security Council permanent members and Germany in 2015, allowed the lifting of international sanctions on Iran in exchange for compliance with restrictions on its nuclear program. The US president is required to recertify it every 90 days or leave its fate to congress.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified Iran's compliance, Trump continues to deride the agreement, calling for more sanctions on Tehran particularly for its ballistic missile program, regional role, and alleged human rights abuses, which were not part of the JCPOA.

Trump announced on January 12 that if congress and the deal's European signatories did not fix the deal's "disastrous flaws", the US would withdraw.

  Simple Reality

"The simple reality is that Trump hates the JCPOA even as he doesn't understand it," Nephew said. "And though his advisors are attempting to get him to think about it more pragmatically, their perennial struggles don't auger well for its survival."

Trump vowed to end the Iran nuclear deal while on the campaign trail. He has continued to criticize Iran as president. Trump's demands would require altering the original parameters of the deal. They include adding punitive measures for missile tests and regional activity, and amending "sunset clauses" that currently allow certain conditions to expire after a number of years. EU leaders and Russia have urged the US to respect the integrity of the original arrangement.

Much of the diplomatic and national security community in Washington breathed a sigh of relief when Trump agreed to extend the deal on January 12.

"It is the national security bureaucracy that ought to be credited," Nephew said, naming National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defense Secretary James Mattis as key figures who emphasized to Trump the risks inherent in dropping the JCPOA.

Newly imposed US sanctions unrelated to the deal target 14 individuals and groups in Iran's military and judiciary, and have little effect on the country's economy.

Nephew notes that any externally imposed nuclear requirements, like a cap on the number of permitted uranium centrifuges or enriched uranium, could kill the deal for the Iranians.

  Deal's Survival

However, not all policy wonks have handed down such a negative prognosis. James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security advisor during the second Bush administration, told Politico the JCPOA can continue under Trump's new demands.

"Trump is leaving the door open to staying in the agreement if France, Germany, and the UK work with Washington," he told the magazine.

Iran may also choose to stay in an effort to diplomatically isolate the US, said Ryan Turner, senior risk analyst at Protection Group International. But practically, he told CNBC, "The deal may collapse after that regardless."

In mid-January, European leaders issued statements in defense of the agreement, with the EU's top diplomat saying it "made the world safer".

Robert Litwak, director of international security studies at the Wilson Center and a member of Bill Clinton's National Security Council, said whether the deal would live or die past May is hard to say, but that the choice will be difficult and walking away has serious downsides.

"If the United States unilaterally withdraws from the nuclear deal it would isolate Washington," Litwak told CNBC.

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