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Can Trump Cancel the Iran Deal?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In 2015, the United States and Iran negotiated a historic deal to curtail Iran's nuclear program in return for a rollback on international economic sanctions. But, like many other Obama-era policies, President Trump has indicated his displeasure with the deal, declaring Iran "should write us a letter of thank you" for "the stupidest deal of all time."

This would seem to be a clear indication that Trump would want the U.S. to back out of the Iran deal, but is that even possible at this point?

Coming Together

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was negotiated between the European Union, Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States -- and Germany. Although U.S. officials spearheaded the talks, signatories to the deal include the seven nations and the European Union, and the agreement has also been ratified in a U.N. Security Council resolution. So can one country unilaterally scuttle the agreement?

State Department spokesman Mark Toner told USA Today in November that it is possible: "The agreement is valid only as long as all parties uphold it." Iranian President Hassan Rouhani disagreed, saying, "Iran exercised prudence concerning the nuclear agreement as it confirmed JCPOA as a U.N. Security Council Resolution, not as an agreement with one government." Rouhani also dismissed the idea that Trump could negotiate a better deal. "Renegotiation is out of the question," he told reporters last month, saying the agreement "isn't something where one person elected can say, 'I don't like it.'"

Falling Apart

While President Trump could conceivably rescind U.S. approval of the agreement, more likely is aggressive American enforcement of the terms of the deal. "If unreasonable moves are made by Trump, and Iran continues to abide by the nuclear commitments," Ellie Geranmayeh, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations told Foreign Policy, "Europe, Russia, and China are highly likely to side with Iran, and the unified stance on sanctions in pre-2013 days will be broken."

Geranmayeh noted that the Obama administration had signed waivers of past sanctions, which Trump could rescind. "If Trump fails to renew these [waivers], sanctions snap back, essentially," she said, meaning the deal would essentially fall apart.

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