What Are the Prospects For a Nuclear-Armed Iran?

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement might be the most consequential of his presidency.

Back in 2012, as negotiations were just beginning with Iran, President Obama outlined why it was important to stop the country from developing nuclear weapons.

The president also said that Tehran’s nuclear program would represent a “profound” national-security threat to the United States even if Israel were not a target of Iran’s violent rhetoric, and he dismissed the argument that the United States could successfully contain a nuclear Iran.

“You’re talking about the most volatile region in the world,” he said. “It will not be tolerable to a number of states in that region for Iran to have a nuclear weapon and them not to have a nuclear weapon. Iran is known to sponsor terrorist organizations, so the threat of proliferation becomes that much more severe.” He went on to say, “The dangers of an Iran getting nuclear weapons that then leads to a free-for-all in the Middle East is something that I think would be very dangerous for the world.”

Obama also pointed out that “the only way historically that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.” In other words, diplomacy has been more effective than military intervention.

Even as his entire national security team told Trump that the agreement that was ultimately reached with Iran was working, he withdrew the U.S. from the accord and proceeded to impose unilateral sanctions on Iran—eventually leading to the administration’s strategy of maximum pressure. After the assassination of Soleimani, Iran announced that it would no longer abide by the limits of the agreement, although they will continue to allow inspections.

The situation we now face is that, according to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Iran could have nuclear weapons in one to two years. That is what prompted European Union foreign ministers to call for a rare emergency meeting on Friday afternoon.

“Iran’s desire to prevent the crisis from escalating has bought us some time, it has the effect of cooling this down just a little,” a senior EU diplomat told Reuters news agency.

Foreign ministers will receive a briefing on the latest situation in the region from NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at Friday’s meeting.

On Monday, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell tweeted his regret at Iran’s decision to step away from more aspects of the nuclear deal, which, he said, was “now more important than ever”.

It appears that any diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s development of nuclear weapons will fall to the European Union. That’s because, as we have seen from members of the Trump administration who are aligning our foreign policy with the Christian Zionists, their goal is to inflame a war with Iran. Similarly, Republican war hawks like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton view war with Iran as a means of accomplishing regime change. The pretext for both of those groups will be that we must stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. As we saw when they attacked the agreement reached by the Obama administration, diplomacy threatens the goals that they want to achieve.

If the diplomatic efforts of the European Union fail to stop Iran from restarting their nuclear weapons program, Donald Trump’s presidency would have led us to the brink of two completely unacceptable options:

  1. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East, or
  2. A forever war with Iran

For all of the ways that the president has damaged this country both at home and abroad, his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement might be the most consequential.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.