By the end of the business day on Friday, Trump must once again decide whether to extend or cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran. Israeli experts say key decision could go either way.
By Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News
Another key deadline is coming up regarding the renewal of US sanctions on Iran. By Friday, President Donald Trump must — once again — sign waivers on Iranian sanctions to keep the nuclear accord alive or refuse to sign, thereby terminating US participation in the agreement.
Trump has called the Iran deal “the worst deal ever negotiated” and repeatedly said he would like to end the US commitment. On the other hand, his national security team is reportedly urging the president to keep the nuclear accord alive or risk setting off an international crisis and possible Iranian renewal of its nuclear weapons program.
Leading Israeli expert on Iranian affairs Dr. Eran Lerman told World Israel News (WIN), “Trump wants to avoid a major crisis at this time, so I expect he will try to find another way to delay a decision to impose sanctions, while keeping all options open.”
The Obama administration agreed to lift economic sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 agreement between the U.S., Iran, the European Union, China, Russia, Germany, the U.K., and France. As part of the US commitment to the ‘Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,’ or JCPOA, the president must re-sign the agreement every 120 days to allow the sanctions to be imposed.
Until now, Trump has reluctantly instructed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to sign the extensions, while at the same time he has hit Iran with new non-nuclear sanctions that do not violate the agreement.
At the October 2017 deadline, Trump charged that Iran was not living up to the “spirit” of the agreement and asked Congress to unilaterally impose “trigger points” on the deal that would impose nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran should it overstep certain bounds.
‘Reimplementation of sanctions is the right policy’
An Israeli source with strong contacts in the Trump administration told WIN, “At the last deadline POTUS took a midway step and avoided ending or continuing the sanctions. My advice is that he cancel the Iran deal like he promised in the election campaign.”
The same source told WIN, “I have heard from Iranian experts living in exile. They all say that the reimplementation of sanctions is the right policy. The protests that erupted in Iran were due to an economic crisis, but morphed into something more fundamental. Economic pressure is painful for the Iranian people, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Iranian-born Israeli Middle East commentator Meir Javadanfan told WIN, “If America does re-impose sanctions, it will hurt the Iranian economy significantly. It will be even more difficult for Iran to attract investments. However, It won’t have the same effect as the crippling sanctions before the nuclear deal was reached because it will only be imposed by the US and not Europe, Russia or China.”
According to Javadanfan, “While sanctions will hurt, I doubt they will lead to a collapse of the economy, and even if there is a collapse, it will not lead to regime change because there is no alternative waiting to take over.”
Javadanfan said that even if the US imposes sanctions, “it’s not at all certain that Iran will re-start its nuclear enrichment program because they won’t want to lose European trading partners.”
“The Iranian leadership could announce a renewal of its nuclear enrichment program like before the agreement, and expel nuclear inspectors,” he added.
Despite his tough words, nothing has changed
This will be the first time the president has been faced with a deadline since the announcement of his new Iran strategy last October. At that time, he refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal and threatened to terminate it unless Congress forces some major changes concerning, for instance, the Iranian ballistic missile program. Despite his tough words, nothing has changed in the agreement, and the US remains committed to it.
Those advising Trump not to impose sanctions say that the decision could lead to the immediate resumption of the Iranian nuclear enrichment programs and spark a major row with US allies in Europe.
Veteran Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger told WIN, “It seems the key question is whether the president avoids or repeats past mistake over ‘conventional’ Iranian weaponry and aggression. Iran is playing a destabilizing role in the region that has intensified since the 2015 nuclear agreement. Their adventurism in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen is a clear, present and current threat. The war they are waging in Yemen could cause a ripple effect that could even topple the Saudi royal family.”
“Trump must refrain from repeating the devastating 2009 Obama decision not to help opposition elements. It must be tangible support. The time has come for Trump to realize that the US can no longer tolerate Iranian expansion, and the moderate, pro-American Arab countries are waiting for signs of US action. Failure to renew sanctions would be the wrong sign,“ Ettinger said.