Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project, is a contributor to CNN and a columnist for USA Today. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” he was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Asia and Europe. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
President Donald Trump is about to come face-to-face with his next quarterly brush with Armageddon. Should he, or shouldn’t he, scrap the Iran nuclear accord?
Any decision by him to “decertify” Iran’s compliance, will have only a cataclysmic impact on the key issues he has cited for ending the pact and snapping back a range of tough sanctions that would accompany any such action.
The President would not be helping American or Western security. He certainly would not be helping hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who have taken to the streets across Iran.
What such a decision will do is seriously compromise American relations with all its major European allies, as foreign ministers of most European countries suggested on Thursday morning in a tense Brussels meeting.
At the same time, withdrawal would give new strength to Russia and China in global affairs – united against the US in upholding what, to much of the world, appears to be the only real means of restraining Iran from developing nuclear arms. At the same time, America would be left even further isolated as a global pariah.
But such an action by Trump would have other consequences even closer to home. As I suggested here last fall, such a withdrawal by the United States would likely scuttle any number of contracts that could lead to more jobs in America.
While Western European companies might prove to be not unwilling beneficiaries, Iran has also begun to look to even more eager partners. Last November, during a visit to Moscow, President Hasan Rouhani and President Putin signed agreements to collaborate on energy deals worth as much as $30 billion, while some $20 billion more in deals could be en route this year with some western firms, but especially with Rosneft, Lukoil, Gazprom and Zarubezhneft – all Russian oil and gas companies.
China, another signatory of the Iran nuclear pact, along with Russia, France, Germany, Britain, and the EU, is also well-poised to take advantage of any Trump action withdrawing from the pact. “Reactivation of sanctions may cause Iran to export oil using the Chinese Yuan denominated contract, which launches on 18 January,” Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief Commodities Analyst at SEB told OilPrice.com. “This may spark a move away from the present long-established US Dollar denominated oil trading regime.”
Such a development could have far greater consequences than any single Chinese contract. China has long sought to break the stranglehold of the dollar as the dominant currency for the world oil trade. This could be just the opening the Chinese leadership has been seeking for so long.
At a minimum, however, with oil prices again already well above $60 a barrel, any new restraints on the sale of 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian crude that have just begun to hit world markets, has been estimated by Citigroup’s global commodities unit as likely to raise the price of crude by at least $5 a barrel.
But perhaps the most critical immediate impact of any American withdrawal, or even imposition of broader sanctions by Trump, would be to give new ammunition to the already powerful mullahs in Iran. They have laid the blame for recent demonstrations across the country directly at the feet of Western, Israeli and especially American intervention, with the clear need to be suppressed at all costs.
Their powerful Revolutionary Guard forces managed to suppress the first round of protests that spread to more than 80 cities and towns across the country, leaving nearly two dozen dead and at least a thousand arrested and jailed.
Any move by President Trump to re-impose sanctions could deal a mortal blow to further efforts to revive a groundswell of support for a return to some semblance of democracy in Iran.
There remain strong, dark forces within Iran anxious to bring a quick end to the nuclear pact at any economic cost and begin a full-tilt scramble toward an atomic arsenal. So, the willingness of Iran and moderate forces, led by Rouhani, to remain in the accord, could be tested by any sanctions the US might reinstate now as a price for certifying and retaining the full agreement.
Individuals and companies that may suddenly find themselves on an expanded blacklist that had been thinned out under the original agreement could only add their voices to the anti-agreement forces – new pressure for Iran itself to certify that these new sanctions effectively render the agreement null and void.
In short, the only viable choice for Trump is simply to choose the high road again this time around, with the sad certainty that we’ll simply revisit the question again three months from now.