It is not always easy to guess at President Trump’s decisions, but he currently seems to have two options in dealing with the Iran nuclear agreement or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The first is to put the U.S. into material breach of the Iran nuclear deal by failing to renew the waivers of nuclear sanctions on Iran by a deadline of May 12, 2018. The second is to delay such action, but use the threat of renewing sanctions to pressure Iran, America’s European allies and other powers to agree to additional arms control agreements on missiles, de facto or de jure expansion of the JCPOA, and/or limits on Iran’s influence outside Iran.
The President has already demonstrated that he can find ways to partially waive the agreement and step up the pressure on Iran, as well as nations that travel with it. There are limits, however, to how far the President can go and still semi-comply with the JCPOA. The U.S. has not opened its financial markets fully under the terms of the agreement, and Iran can already make a case that the U.S. is failing to comply. There are also limits to how long he can delay action and keep up credible pressure on other powers. At some point this year the President will almost have to either restore sanctions and end U.S. participation in the agreement or succeed in forging some kind of acceptable compromise that will place additional limits on Iran.
Option One: If the President Does Seek to End U.S. Participation in the JCPOA
Much of the media and think tank reporting on the President’s options for ending U.S. participation in the JCPOA has focused on President Trump’s most immediate option, which is to end the waiver to many of the nuclear weapons related sanctions that the U.S. placed on Iran before the JCPOA. These options are complex, involve different levels of Congressional action, and are likely to be opposed by many allies and other members of the 5+1, and provoke action by Iran.