Under the landmark Iran nuclear deal, the international community “calls upon” Iran to halt work on missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years.
But there’s a glaring problem with this provision — Iran can simply say it’s working on a conventional missile, not one intended to carry a nuclear payload.
And that’s exactly what Iran has done since the early days of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran has repeatedly tested ballistic missiles that it can easily convert to carry nuclear payloads.
While observers have argued that these tests go against the “spirit” of the agreement, the language of the agreement fails to explicitly prohibit these activities, and nothing indicates that Iran will stop testing missiles.
“Iran’s defence capabilities cannot be compromised and are under no circumstance negotiable,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told Iranian TV, according to the AFP. “Missile tests are conducted within the framework of Iran’s defence policies.”
But President-elect Donald Trump has vowed repeatedly to renegotiate the Iran deal, and according to Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, a Middle East expert who is a vice president of research at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, missile testing could be on the table.
“Trump has repeatedly slammed the deal as being a bad deal — the assumption is that he’s going to do something,” Schanzer told Business Insider, though he admits that given Trump’s ambiguity on the subject it’s “extremely difficult” to anticipate how negotiations would play out.
“We haven’t heard specifics,” said Schanzer, but there are limits to what a President Trump could do. “We can’t rip it up on day one … the idea that you can do a 180 is unrealistic.”
However, according to Schanzer, even before taking office, Trump’s election has already shaken up the status quo between the US and Iran.
“Without question, Trump’s victory will spook a lot of financial institutions and companies that were considering investments in Iran,” said Schanzer. Even companies that have already invested in Iran will “likely cool their heels, rethinking their investment strategies and wondering how investments are going to change because of the lack of continuity.”
Trump’s election has caused a “new inflection point with regard to this deal,” said Schanzer. And while most experts agree the deal can’t be nullified on day one, it is “something that can be changed by degrees over time,” and that a Trump administration could undertake a “carefully planned unwinding of the deal.”
However, Schanzer warns that should the US undo the Iran deal, Iran wouldn’t be happy about it, and the US should then have a “carefully planned response to Iranian aggression.”
Ultimately, how a Trump administration will proceed with Iran is a mystery, but the prospects for negotiation have undoubtedly changed, and perhaps improved.
Schanzer points out that Trump’s pivots with governments around the world could turn the tables with Iran. For instance, Russia has influence over Iran, and Trump has repeatedly signalled that he could rework the US-Russia relationship.
“If this incoming administration does reset ties with Russia, and Russia has understanding with Iran, how does that play out?” asked Schanzer.
With a redefined standing in the world, “arms embargoes, ballistic missiles, these things could be renegotiated” between the US and Iran, said Schanzer.
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