The complete collapse of the Iran deal would be disastrous but could the Trump administration still score a foreign policy success with Iran?
Donald Trump takes personal credit for Kim Jong-Un’s recent decision to halt missile and nuclear warhead testing. He was backed by most of the international community on the need to apply pressure, although not necessarily in his choice of language. But by going it alone with Iran, Donald Trump risks a monumental two-fold foreign policy failure. He might fail to influence the Iranian military threat and simultaneously weaken the relationship with NATO allies.
Let’s hope that Trump has a strategy for working with the international community in such a way that constrains rather than inflames the situation in the Middle East.
Sadly we do not have good grounds for such hope as the Trump record so far is not good.
For example, when threatening to pull out of the Paris climate deal he thought that it could be amended to better suit America. It couldn’t, and it is difficult to see any single positive foreign policy gain for the US arising from that decision.
On Israel/Palestine, in December 2017 we learnt that the US had a new and radically different plan for resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict that would be announced within weeks. To date the much vaunted peace plan has not been released. There is little evidence of a plan that comprehends the aspirations of both peoples.
With respect to Iran, Trump anticipates that the US could inflict significant damage on the country’s economy which might harm the Iranian Government’s military spending. To achieve this the US would need to impose secondary sanctions on European firms which would erode foreign policy and trade cooperation with NATO allies.
Looking for positives, we might find one aspect of Trump’s announcement yesterday useful. While castigating Iran’s leadership as a “murderous regime” he recognises that they are rational actors driven by national interest and he briefly placed himself in their shoes.
“Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. They refuse, and that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is, they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.”
But the businessman in Trump needs to appreciate that even severe economic hardship is not likely to divert the Iranian leadership from pursuing national interests and preserving national identity. If the President’s staff are to avoid a huge two-fold foreign policy failure they must work harder to understand the position of others over the coming months. If US pride and unilateralism is paramount they may not bother to try.
 The Iran deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) sustains the all-important nuclear verification regime. Yesterday’s announcement is irreversible, but there are a few weeks or months, in which to negotiate the extent of US sanctions. This might determine the Iranian leadership’s continued commitment to the JCPOA.