Trump, Iran and the international community

By George N. Tzogopoulos
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 16, 2017
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File Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May (not in the picture) at the White House in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 27, 2017. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

U.S. President Donald Trump is challenging foreign policy norms, and, while his general stance is more moderate in comparison to pre-election rhetoric, it still causes concern for the international community.

The most recent example comes with his speech on Iran. After having twice certified the 2015 international agreement controlling that country's nuclear development - which he is required to do every three months - Trump has changed tune.

His decision to disavow the deal puts the Iran issue firmly back on the agenda, after more than two years of stability and calmness. What is perhaps more worrying is his determination to terminate it, unless Congress remains resolute in blocking him.

For the time being, fortunately, it seems particularly difficult for him to domestically receive the legislative backing he seeks. Even those Republicans and Democrats who traditionally have considered Iran a threat are skeptical about his erratic foreign policy.

If the Congress does not support Trump - as it is currently anticipated - it will be the second rebuff following doubts over his agenda vis-à-vis Russia.

In parallel with internal obstacles, Trump will encounter pressure by other countries that invested much political capital in the crafting of an agreement and count on its preservation. Reactions from China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. have been harsh. China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its belief in the deal because it ensures "the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and regional peace and stability."

For his part, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was adamant that the multinational deal could not be revoked by one country.

Trump's Iran speech reflects his determination to leave a personal stamp on world politics, for better or for worse. Lacking experience in dealing with international affairs he often puts ego above other considerations, and does not pay much attention to the long-term repercussions of his choices.

In the case of Iran, he partially listened to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who convinced him to slightly soften his tone and avoid immediately scrapping the accord. Of course, this equally reveals apparent divisions within the administration with the president against the deal and key advisors acknowledging its importance.

Trump grounds his new theory on the alleged perception that Iran is not complying with agreed terms and will be able to acquire nuclear weapons. He also criticizes Tehran's general behavior, citing tests of new ballistic missiles and support of terror organizations.

However, these last two allegations have nothing to do with the agreement itself. They are indirectly connected with it, along the lines that Iran is not acting "in the spirit" of the deal. However, the 2015 accord was only about Iran's nuclear program and that other themes are subject to separate sanctions by Washington.

With his new approach vis-à-vis Tehran, Trump is further damaging transatlantic relations. The EU finds it particularly difficult to cooperate with the American president and is regularly surprised by his decisions and his unilateral policy.

Sino-American relations can be also hurt ahead of Trump's China visit. The agenda of bilateral discussions will include several thorny issues and, now, another has been added.

Furthermore, anti-Americanism could be on the rise again. Specifically, it is expected that a wave of nationalism will emerge in Tehran. Iranian people will support their leader and turn against Washington to preserve their country's effort to return to international normalcy after years of isolation.

Two key Middle East countries, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are suspicious about Iran's political motivations. Israel, which naturally attaches great emphasis on security, concentrates on the fact that, after 2025, Tehran will be able to reactivate its nuclear plants and enrich uranium for nuclear bombs.

Supporters of the agreement respond that, without the 2015 breakthrough, Iran would have been able to acquire nuclear weapons much quicker. And they assert that no deal can ever be reached without compromise.

For its part, Saudi Arabia is more concerned about the economic empowerment of Iran following the gradual lift of sanctions and the alleged Iranian and Shiite meddling in the Sunni-dominated Arab world.

Yet, the perpetual isolation of Iran that Riyadh is hoping for becomes wishful thinking from the moment most world powers opt for engagement of the country with the international community.

In the final analysis, Trump's stance raises the question whether the world will be safer with a new stage of rivalry between the U.S. and Iran. Threats of a military attack against Tehran may satisfy the demands of hawkish politicians and intellectuals, but they trigger instability and produce uncertainty.

More importantly, by decertifying the Iranian deal Trump tarnishes the reliability of the U.S. and creates a negative precedent. This accord is a model of international cooperation and can serve as a catalyst for progress in other fronts, including North Korea. It is wiser to grasp opportunities instead of blowing them apart.

George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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