Iran Deal Preview: Exit from JCPOA Appears Likely, Tougher Sanctions Possible

Hassan Rouhani
The Associated Press

In advance of President Trump’s statement about the future of the Iran nuclear deal at 2:00 PM Eastern time on Tuesday, most observers believe he will withdraw from the agreement or demand such extensive revisions that it is effectively wiped out.

Inside sources quoted by various media outlets disagree greatly about whether Trump will announce a complete or partial withdrawal.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday morning that President Trump has privately informed French President Emmanuel Macron that he will announce withdrawal from the nuclear deal, formally known as the JCPOA.  Trump reportedly wishes to not only reimpose the sanctions lifted by President Barack Obama’s deal but “impose additional economic penalties as well.”

According to the NYT’s sources, Trump insisted on extending limits to Iranian nuclear fuel production beyond 2030, the current sunset date for the JCPOA’s restrictions. Evidently, the Iranians refused to compromise on this point.

An unnamed U.S. official told CNN that sanctions “could take months to go into effect as the U.S. government develops guidance for companies and banks.” It is possible that further negotiations to salvage the core of the JCPOA could take place during this period.

“It’s pretty obvious to me that unless something changes in the next few days, I believe the President will not waive the sanctions,” said a European diplomat quoted by CNN. Unlike the New York Times, CNN’s sources believed Trump would not impose additional sanctions immediately.

International Crisis Group President Robert Malley, formerly a White House negotiator on the JCPOA, said over the weekend that expects Trump to pull out of the deal.

“It’s hard to see how this time he won’t withdraw from the deal given everything he’s said, given all the attempts that appear to have failed to convince him otherwise,” said Malley.

“That said, President Trump’s middle name is ‘unpredictable,’ so who knows what he’ll do,” he added.

“But in some ways, the die is cast. Whether he withdraws now or maintains uncertainty, the benefits that Iran wanted to get from the deal are basically evaporating, so it’s going to be very hard to keep the deal alive unless Europe does something quite significant, even if President Trump decides this week, ‘Oh, I’m going to give another three months reprieve,’” he predicted.

The Washington Post describes JCPOA supporters as “pessimistic” during their last-ditch effort to keep Trump on board. French President Macron went so far as to warn that canceling the deal “could mean war” in an interview on Friday.

A spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry insisted on Monday that the U.S. cannot easily withdraw from the agreement (evidently unlike Iran, which constantly threatens to withdraw when it finds America’s conduct unacceptable).

Spokesman Bahram Qassemi vowed that Iran’s response to withdrawal “will be painful for the U.S. and make them regret it.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also warned the U.S. would regret exiting the JCPOA in the past, but he sounded somewhat less belligerent over the weekend, conceding that Iran would face “problems” and “difficulties” from the resumption of U.S. sanctions.

“Whether we are under sanctions or not, we should stand on our feet. This is very important to develop our country,” said Rouhani.

There has been much speculation that Iran and the Europeans would try to keep the JCPOA alive after American withdrawal. The problem facing such an effort is that restored U.S. sanctions would weaken Iran’s economy and scare off investors.

The U.S. stock market was nervous ahead of Trump’s announcement, as investors waited to learn if sanctions on Iran would be restored swiftly. The oil market is watching with particular interest since Iran now accounts for 500,000 barrels of oil production per day. Crude saw its biggest price drop in three months after reports of the JCPOA’s imminent demise began to circulate, although analysts also said the recent oil price rally was also driven in part by expectations that Trump would reimpose sanctions on the Iranian oil industry.

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