Editorial: U.S. withdrawal from Iran nuclear agreement will raise risk of crisis in the Middle East

With U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from its nuclear agreement with Iran, tensions could now rise in the Middle East. Such a decision, we believe, is pure folly.

Mr. Trump declared that the United States would restore the highest level of economic sanctions against Iran. Iran has reacted sharply to these one-sided actions taken by the United States.

The U.S. withdrawal has stirred concern among the international community. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany released a joint statement which said that they would seek to remain in the nuclear deal with Iran and continue its implementation. This downward spiral of extreme actions, including Iran’s own potential exit from the deal, must be prevented at all costs.

In 2015, Iran and six nations, which included the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, concluded an agreement to put brakes on Iran’s nuclear development program. It can be said that the deal has produced some favorable results, such as the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the organization which has carried out the inspections of all the nuclear-related facilities in Iran, submitted a report in February of this year which confirmed that Iran had been properly following the agreement.

However, Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized the agreement as “the worst deal ever.” In making his decision, Mr. Trump must have had U.S. public opinion in mind, which has held a hostile view of Iran since the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. He also apparently took into account the fact that religious conservatives, who are known as loyal supporters, are behind Israel in its conflict with Iran. In addition, he seems to have intentionally ignored international public opinion on the matter in order to deny the diplomatic accomplishments of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

As Mr. Trump has pointed out, there are some problems with the deal, including a clause wherein some provisions which restrict Iran’s nuclear development activities would expire in 2025. But this issue can be resolved by pursuing an extension of the deal. Mr. Trump’s argument is not a persuasive enough reason to pull out of the agreement.

The Trump administration never pursues a course of compromise. Mr. Trump may want to send this message of taking a tough stance in advance of the summit that will take place between the United States and North Korea next month. But the question remains whether the U.S. withdrawal from the deal will lead to adverse consequences. In fact, the United States has also withdrawn from other international agreements under the Trump administration out of its own self-interest, including the Paris Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With the U.S. policy of “America first,” North Korea may feel cautious about the fact that the United States could abruptly change its stance at any time.

The U.S. withdrawal is likely to darken Iran’s domestic conditions, too. If hardliners there gain power, they may reshape their nation’s current cooperative policy with EU nations and the United States, which has been gradually built by moderates and reformists. If Iran resumes its nuclear development activities, such as enriching uranium, Saudi Arabia, another nation at odds with Iran, could move toward developing its own nuclear arsenal. Nuclear proliferation would then be hard to stop, with conditions in the Middle East becoming more perilous.

Israel has welcomed the U.S. withdrawal. That nation sought to convince the United States to exit from the deal by showing over 50,000 pages of documents that it claimed were evidence of Iran’s efforts to secretly advance its nuclear ambitions. It is difficult to understand how Israel, a de facto nuclear power, can criticize the nuclear development actions of another nation. As long as the United States refuses to comment on Israel’s nuclear arsenal, it can only be said that the United States holds a self-centered attitude and applies double standards.

In addition, the fact that United States has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and will relocate its embassy there, will likely only fuel greater conflict in the region.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono released a statement that said Japan supports the Iran nuclear agreement and its potential to help prevent nuclear proliferation and contribute to stability in the Middle East. This is a sound perspective. While asking Iran to continue refraining from developing nuclear arms, it is important that Japan promote a structure that can help limit Iran’s nuclear development activities in the future with the cooperation of EU nations. The Japanese government must be persistent in its efforts to persuade the United States to return to the nuclear deal by emphasizing the significance of this agreement.

(Originally published on May 10, 2018)