Exiting the Deal Part 7: Experts Analysis

May 9, 2018

Foreign policy and nonproliferation experts issued a range of reactions to President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal. Some critics of the accord thought the move was risky. "I would've preferred to see a US-E3 agreement first,​​​​​​" Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense for Democracies said. "I certainly understand President Trump's motivation but it's a big risk," said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector. Supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) said U.S. credibility had been damaged. "This is the most devastating and destructive act of Trump’s presidency," Joe Cirincione told MSNBC. The following are reactions from experts on Trump's decision. 


David Albright, Founder and President of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security
Former U.N. Weapons Inspector

"I certainly understand President Trump's motivation but it's a big risk and he's now in a sense promised a process to not only renegotiate the Iran deal but extend it into other areas. ... The path in front of him is quite large."

―May 8, 2018, according to Business Insider


Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director Arms Control Association

"President Trump’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal, which has successfully blocked Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, is an irresponsible act of foreign policy malpractice."

"European-U.S. efforts to negotiate a supplemental agreement intended to address Trump's complaints failed to yield results because Trump stubbornly refused to guarantee that he would uphold U.S. commitments under the JCPOA and demanded that Europe help to unilaterally impose major changes to the original terms of the agreement."

"The Iran nuclear deal is a strong nonproliferation agreement that delivers permanent and robust international monitoring of Iran’s nuclear activities, strictly limits its capacity to enrich uranium and prohibits other sensitive nuclear activities. Through his reckless actions, Trump is precipitating a proliferation crisis rather than working with our allies to develop a long-term diplomatic strategy to build on the agreement in the years ahead."
―May 8, 2018, in a press release


Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies


Suzanne DiMaggio, Senior Fellow and Director of The U.S.-Iran Initiative at New America


Reuel Marc Gerecht, Senior Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

"President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal should be viewed as condign punishment for the disingenuous way Barack Obama and his staff sold the agreement to the American public."

"To Trump’s credit, he has chosen not to ignore the deal’s counterproductive sunset clauses, which make restrictions on Iran temporary. He hasn’t ignored that Revolutionary Guard bases, where we know Iran has engaged in nuclear-weapons research, are now effectively off-limits to inspectors.

"He is not ignoring the regime’s development of long-range ballistic missiles that only makes sense if armed with atomic warheads. He is not ignoring the strategic and moral absurdity that monies delivered to Iran under the deal abet Tehran’s imperialism, especially its savage campaign in Syria, which has now claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

"Stunningly, Trump is not doing what democracies almost always do: Punt problems down the road, where they inevitably become far worse."

―May 8, 2018, in a USA Today article 


Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, Arms Control Association

"Reimposing sanctions absent Iranian violations is a twofold abrogation of U.S. commitments under the JCPOA*and it is critical that members of Congress and Washington’s P5+1 partners denounce Trump’s actions as a breach of the accord. Not only did the United States commit not to reimpose sanctions, Washington also committed not to interfere with the full realization of sanctions relief.”

“Trump’s action today does not kill the agreement, but it jeopardizes the future of the deal unless other partners, particularly the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), take immediate steps to insulate their companies and banks which are engaged in trade with Iran from U.S. secondary sanctions.”

"We call on the E3, Russia, China, and other responsible states to pursue implementation of the JCPOA without the United States and implement measures that block the application of U.S. secondary sanctions. We also urge Tehran to continue abiding by the limits of the deal. Resuming troublesome nuclear activities limited by the accord will not serve Iran’s interests and risks provoking a deeper crisis.”
―May 8, 2018, in a press release


Robert Einhorn, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution
Former State Department Special Advisor for Non-proliferation and Arms Control

"I think the president's decision is a grave mistake for the United States and for the world. The Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was working effectively. No one in the Trump administration believed that Iran was not complying with it. It was blocking all of Iran's paths to a nuclear weapon, and now with the demise of the deal, Iran will be free to amp up its uranium enrichment capacity and reduce the amount of time it would take to produce enough nuclear material for a nuclear weapon. Also, Iran would be free to remove the enhanced verification measures that were required by the deal. So, we will have less of a handle on what Iran is doing in the nuclear field and less confidence that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons. So, I think the decision was a terrible mistake." 

"The Europeans came very far in trying to meet President Trump's objectives. But having come that far, the Trump administration decided to walk away from the deal anyway. I think there will be a lot of resentment. And now what's going to happen, is the Trump administration will be threatening international banks and businesses around the world with secondary sanctions for engaging with Iran. So, we can find European and Asian allies with companies now being sanctioned by the Trump administration." 

May 8, 2018, in an interview with BNN Bloomberg's Catherine Murray


Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

"Multilateralism does build symbolic legitimacy, but unilateralism often brings the most effective change. There will be no break with Europe. The sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank which Trump now reimposes mean that European leaders have a choice: trade in rials or in dollars, but not both. No European government is willing to sacrifice hundreds of billions of dollars in trade to stand in solidarity with the Islamic Republic. Don’t take my word for it? Ask Bill Clinton: It was Clinton who, beginning in 1994, issued a number of executive orders and in 1996 signed the Iran Libya Sanction Act, which together imposed unilateral on Iran and applied them in an extraterritorial manner to European companies willing to flout them.

The problem with Iran, however, has never been in Washington; it has always been in Tehran. Trump was not wrong to put the JCPOA on life support and then threaten to pull the plug. It’s not quite dead yet, and brinkmanship is sometimes necessary. Even if the JCPOA had survived, its sunset clauses and Iran’s ballistic-missile program meant a new strategy was necessary. Let’s just hope Trump has one as he moves forward."

May 9, 2018, in a National Interest article 


Joe Cirincione, President of Plougshares Fund
Former professional staff on the U.S. House of Representatives Committees on Armed Services and Government Operations

“This is the most devastating and destructive act of Trump’s presidency. It’s impossible to overstate the seriousness of what he just did. It isn’t just that he destroyed a key national security arrangement of the United States, it isn’t just that he betrayed our allies, it isn’t just that he damaged the credibility of the United States on the world stage, it’s that he doesn’t have a plan for how to replace this.”

―May 8, 2018, on MSNBC


Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at International Crisis Group


Elizabeth Rosenberg, Senior Fellow and Director of Energy, Economics and Security Program at the Center for New American Security

"It's inevitable that there will be a huge amount of confusion and chaos and real frustration and dismay, which may be how this president likes to operate in the conduct of foreign policy. But it won't serve nuclear nonproliferation aims or regional security aims. And that appears to be clear to almost everyone except the White House."

―May 8, 2018, on NPR's All Things Considered with Michele Kelemen 


Mark Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of International Institute for Strategic Studies-Americas

“Of all the options that Trump had before him today, he chose the most hard-line position of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal altogether. He could have softened the blow. He could have tried to portray some middle ground, suggesting to the Europeans, for example, that there would be several months before any penalties would be imposed so there was still time to try to improve the deal, but he held out no such hope. This is it. He’s pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and now the ball is in Iran's court.

“This decision today absolutely undermines [the] trust of every country nearly in the world about American leadership, about American commitments to its obligations, about the potential for working with the United States on other areas of mutual interest. Now this is not the first time that President Trump has done something of this nature: pulling out of the Paris climate accords was a huge blow to American leadership and credibility. Pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [multilateral trade pact] was another such blow. So this is, though, perhaps the most momentous of those blows because it has such a direct impact on the stability of the Middle East, on the potential for an arms race in the Middle East, and on a transatlantic-rift between the United States and its European partners.”

May 8, 2018, according to Radio Free Europe Radio Library 


Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Suzanne Maloney, Deputy Director of the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution

"After months of speculation and a flurry of last-minute European diplomacy, Donald Trump has taken perhaps the most consequential decision of his unconventional presidency with the Tuesday announcement that he is re-imposing U.S. sanctions on Iran in a deliberately provocative breach of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. By torpedoing U.S. adherence to the accord, Trump has all but guaranteed its collapse, a move that opens the door to the unfettered resumption of Iran’s nuclear program and unleashes unpredictable escalatory pressures in an already volatile Middle East.

The premediated American dismantling of an agreement that was the product of more than a decade of intense diplomacy and economic pressure marks a staggeringly counterproductive step. That it was undertaken over the vocal objections of Washington’s closest allies and without a clear strategy of mitigating the newly heightened risks of Iranian proliferation and conventional retaliation represents an abdication of American leadership on the international stage that is unparalleled in recent history.

The only question that matters is: How is America safer now? If the president truly believes that the JCPOA’s far-reaching inspections regime and its restrictions of 10, 15, and 25 years are somehow insufficient to guard against Iran’s unshakeable yearning for a nuclear weapon, what risks then are posed by the evisceration of all constraints?"

May 8, 2018, according to the Brookings Institution 


Ellie Geranmayeh, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations


Dina Esfandiary, Centre for Science and Security Studies Fellow 

"We mustn’t be under any illusion: Trump’s announcement to walk away from the Iran deal achieves absolutely nothing. Rather, it makes everything worse. He discredits the nuclear deal, putting it on the path to destruction and potentially re-opening the doors to an Iranian nuclear program; he puts American credibility on the line; and none of this addresses any international concerns over Iran’s behaviour. This is crisis-creation at its finest.

Trump and other conservatives were concerned about what the deal “gave” Iran: the “sunset” clauses and Iran’s regional activities and missiles. But his decision to pull out of the deal does not address any of these concerns."

"rump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal will not assuage US concerns about Iran’s regional role or its missiles. The decision only serves to create a new crisis on an issue that was shelved more than two years ago. In addition, it impacts US credibility with its allies and its ability to strike future such deals. It is a clear loss for US foreign policy. The question now is, can Europe, Russia, and China do enough to keep Iran on board as the pressure mounts in Tehran to respond forcefully to such a flagrant violation of the Iran deal?"

May 9, 2018, in a commentary for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 


Ambassador James Dobbins, Senior Fellow at RAND Corporation
Former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan


Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations

"From the outset, the JCPOA contained the seeds of its own destruction. In contravention of decades of bipartisan arms control policy, the JCPOA conceded an indigenous enrichment capacity to an adversarial nation; Iran was allowed to continue enriching uranium while modernizing its atomic infrastructure. This original sin was the most consequential one."

"There is always an implicit connection between an adversary’s regional behavior and the durability of a nuclear accord. ... In the end, the Islamic Republic could not implant its flag across the Middle East and aggravate Arab civil wars and sustain the JCPOA. Thus, in any future talks, the U.S. can’t allow Iran’s regional behavior to be excluded from consideration.

Yet another lesson here for future diplomats is that any restrictions negotiated on Iran’s nuclear program must be permanent ones—no more sunset clauses."

"All this is a high bar for an agreement. And it may come to pass that arms control should not define America’s priorities as it once more contemplates the post-JCPOA environment. The Islamic Republic is a crippled revolutionary state on an inexorable path to extinction. It is ideologically exhausted, financially depleted and suffering from imperial overstretch. As Washington turns a page from the JCPOA, it may consider ways of empowering Iranians to reclaim their country and make all the arms control discussions superfluous. That is now the Trump administration’s charge, and its most important challenge."

May 8, 2018, in a Politico Magazine article


Ariane Tabatabai, Senior Associate in the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies


Institute for Science and International Security

We are disappointed that the United States was unable to reach agreement with its European partners on developing an agreement to fix key terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We hope that comprehensive negotiations begin soon with our European allies, and ultimately with Iran, on reaching a broader agreement covering the need for lasting limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, constraints on its development of long-range ballistic missiles, and better International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections.

In the meantime, the United States and its European partners need to continue pressing the IAEA to improve inspections in Iran, particularly in light of the revelations about Iran’s atomic archive and the on-going stewardship of that archive alleged by Israel. This is one area of the recent U.S./European negotiations that reached consensus. As long as Iran remains in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has an obligation to answer the IAEA’s questions and allow inspectors access to military sites and personnel in Iran related to that effort. The new information raised by the archive will undoubtedly strengthen the IAEA’s hand in pressing Iran for access. A priority is ensuring that the IAEA gets that access.

May 8, 2018, in a statement


International Crisis Group

President Donald J. Trump has unilaterally withdrawn the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and announced the reimposition of sanctions against Iran. Since January, when President Trump declared that he would pull the U.S. out of the nuclear agreement with Iran unless Congress and Europe addressed several “disastrous flaws”, the UK, France and Germany, collectively known as the E3, made significant progress toward accommodating the White House’s concerns. Iran’s compliance with its JCPOA obligations has been verified repeatedly by the UN nuclear agency conducting the most rigorous inspection regime ever negotiated. But these factors seemingly did nothing to dissuade President Trump from exiting an agreement he has had in his crosshairs since taking office in January 2017.

In the wake of this reckless and unjustified decision, the priority should be to salvage the JCPOA without the U.S., and avoid the unwelcome prospect of a renewed nuclear crisis in a Middle East already in turmoil.

The accord’s fate now primarily rests on the actions of Europe. While European efforts have thus far focused on how to keep the U.S. in the JCPOA, they must now shift to keeping Iran from getting out. E3 leaders have been clear in their common commitment to upholding the agreement, even as they share concerns over aspects of Iran’s behaviour beyond the nuclear realm. As Crisis Group recently proposed, a JCPOA minus – with Russia and China, but without the U.S. – requires a political and economic commitment by Europe that preserves as many of the benefits envisioned by the deal for Iran as possible. This could help Iranian policymakers justify restraint in the face of the U.S.’s withdrawal, and facilitate continued EU-Iran dialogue on issues such as Iran’s ballistic missile program, regional policies and human rights situation.

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear agreement is an irresponsible, unnecessary and serious blow to the JCPOA. If Europe and Iran can find a way to work together, however, it need not be fatal.

―May 8, 2018, in a statement



Click here for President Trump's remarks. 

Click here for the U.S. Treasury's statements on sanctions. 

Click here for Iran's response. 

Click here for world reactions. 

Click here for congressional remarks. 

Click here for Obama-era officials' reactions. 

Click here for responses from around the Middle East. 

Click here for Iranian media coverage.