Will the U.S. Blow Up the Iran Nuclear Deal?: QuickTake Q&A
2017-08-02 15:36:26.689 GMT

By Ladane Nasseri and Golnar Motevalli
(Bloomberg) — The Iran nuclear deal, struck in 2015 after
countless late nights and serial missed deadlines, is running
into trouble just six months into Donald Trump’s presidency.
Trump signed legislation Aug. 2 broadening sanctions against
Iran. And he has indicated he’s unlikely to again certify Iran’s
compliance with the nuclear agreement, as required under U.S.
law every 90 days, arguing its missile program and foreign
policy are an affront to the spirit of the pact. The pressure
has put Tehran in a bind: It sees the American actions as an
infringement of the agreement, and factions that have
consistently rejected it are pushing for a more aggressive
Iranian riposte. Delivering one would risk allowing the U.S. to
blame Iran for any subsequent collapse of the accord.

1. Will the U.S. blow up the deal?

As a candidate, Trump variously promised to scrap or
renegotiate the Iran deal. Last week, he seemed to be veering
toward attempting the latter, with an official saying the
administration wanted to work with allies to build a case that
the agreement has serious flaws. The Associated Press reported
that the U.S. wants to push for more inspections of Iranian
military sites that it deems suspicious, an inflammatory move.
European nations — along with Iran — have so far ruled out
reopening the hard-won text. With five other sovereign
signatories to the agreement with Iran, a unilateral American
exit wouldn’t necessarily spell the end. But it would deal a
heavy blow and damage further Iranian hopes of securing the
funding it needs to rebuild its economy.

2. How do others see the accord?

Three European signatories — France, Germany and the U.K.
— remain committed to the agreement, and European Union foreign
policy chief Federica Mogherini is scheduled to attend the Aug.
5 inauguration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a second
term, in a clear show of support for the moderate cleric who has
championed diplomacy. Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at International
Crisis Group, said the backing offers Iran a chance to protect
the accord but such a strategy would depend on the appetite in
Paris, Berlin, Brussels and London for a transatlantic
confrontation. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
will push the message that the U.S. is “rocking the boat” — and
risking European business interests in the Islamic Republic —
at a time when international monitors agree that Iran is
adhering to commitments to curb its nuclear program, said Ariane
Tabatabai, an Iran expert at Georgetown University.

3. Are there other friends out there?

Iran has deepened economic and military ties with the two
other powers that signed the pact, Russia and China, both veto-
wielding members of the United Nations Security Council. That
allows Iran to signal to the U.S. that “we are everywhere you
have an interest in,” said Tabatabai. But neither country can
unlock the financing Iran requires, nor are they likely to
persuade Trump to back off.

4. Is Iran likely to respond militarily?

Parliament has already approved the outlines of a bill that
would increase funding for the country’s missile program —
which Iran considers essential for its defense — and the
Revolutionary Guards, the premier security force. Under Trump,
the U.S. has expanded sanctions on both. More flashpoints are
likely. Iran said July 27 it had successfully tested a rocket
for sending satellites into space, a move immediately denounced
as provocative by the U.S. for its use of long-distance
technology. With Iranian and American forces in proximity in
Syria and Iraq, as well as the waters of the Persian Gulf, Iran
could look to “raise the cost” in the region for the U.S., said
Vaez. However that’s very risky, he said, and the nuclear deal
could end up as “collateral damage.” Unintended clashes are a
possibility. The U.S. 5th Fleet and Iran’s Guards gave
contesting accounts of a July 28 incident in which American
helicopters shot warning flares.

5. Can Iran appeal to the law?

Iran argues that the U.S. is contravening the nuclear deal
by taking steps that undermine the normalization of trade with
the Islamic Republic. Just like any other signatory to the
agreement — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of
Action — Iran can take a complaint over non-compliance to a
Joint Commission, which has representation from all parties. The
commission would have 35 days to resolve the dispute, including
possible referral to the seven nations’ foreign ministers.
Action through an international judicial agency would be
difficult, said Will Breeze, a partner at London-based
international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. The U.S. is
targeting issues, such as Iran’s missile development, that
aren’t covered by the nuclear deal. “These are just U.S.-driven
sanctions and it’s a sovereign right,” he said. “Many might not
like the extra-territorial nature of U.S. sanctions, but they
can’t do anything about it.”

6. Might Iran expand its nuclear activity?

Countering what Iran sees as U.S. bad behavior with some of
its own would likely bring retribution. Accelerating its nuclear
work beyond what’s allowed under the accord could invite U.S. or
Israeli strikes on its facilities, said Vaez at Crisis Group. It
would also put the supportive Europeans “between a rock and a
hard place,” he said. In an interview in late July, Zarif said
that as long as the deal was functioning, the Islamic Republic
would not give Trump a “gift” by leaving it. Iranian leaders see
Trump as the “unreasonable” party and want to portray themselves
as the “grown-ups in the room,” according to Amir Handjani, a
senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Iran’s unlikely to walk
away unless the Trump administration does something that
fundamentally changes the equation, he said.

7. How could that happen?

The U.S. could unilaterally trigger a process to reinstate
broad United Nations sanctions. The Security Council would then
have 30 days to pass a resolution to continue sanctions relief
and halt the deal’s so-called “snap-back” mechanism. A failure
to do so, Iran has asserted, would leave it with no option but
to stop abiding by the accord.

The Reference Shelf

* A guide to the Iran nuclear deal by the Belfer Center
* Bloomberg News has published a QuickTake on Iran’s nuclear
program, including a map of its major atomic facilities.
* Federation of American Scientists overview of the
effectiveness of applying sanctions on Iranian nuclear
facilities.
* A Bloomberg story on Middle East battles where Iranian and
U.S. forces operate in close proximity.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Ladane Nasseri in Dubai at lnasseri@bloomberg.net;
Golnar Motevalli in Tehran at gmotevalli@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net
Mark Williams, Lisa Beyer