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Trump Pulls Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, What Happens Next?

U.S. president Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal vowing new and 'powerful' sanctions on Iran

Donald Trump and  Hassan Rohani.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque, Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday vowing to restore U.S. economic sanctions on Tehran, a move Iran vows will effectively kill the Obama-era Iran nuclear accord.

In late April, in an effort to save the deal, French President Emmanuel Macron offered Trump a "new deal" in which the United States and Europe would tackle the outstanding concerns about Iran beyond its nuclear program.

Macron used a three-day state visit to the United States as a high-stakes bid to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which many in the West see as the best hope of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and heading off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

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Under Macron's proposal, the United States and Europe would agree to block any Iranian nuclear activity until 2025 and beyond, address Iran's ballistic missile program and generate conditions for a political solution to contain Iran in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long called specifically for cancelling a core "sunset clause" that removes caps on Iran's nuclear projects after a number of years.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani however appeared to immediately throw cold water on Macron's efforts.

“I have spoken with Macron several times by phone, and one time in person at length. I have told him explicitly that we will not add anything to the deal or remove anything from it, even one sentence. The nuclear deal is the nuclear deal,” he said during a conference in the northwestern city of Tabriz the day after Macron announced his "new deal." He suggested Macron has no right to amend an agreement signed by seven nations.

“As long as our interests are guaranteed we will remain in the deal, whether the U.S. remains or not,” Rohani said. But he added that “if our benefits are not guaranteed, we will not remain in the deal, no matter what the circumstances are.”

It was unclear what that would mean for the fate of the 2015 accord and whether the other countries that signed it, such as China and Russia, would agree to new measures against Iran. However, Macron later dampened expectations saying he still expected Trump to pull out of the deal based on Trump’s past statements.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to also make a case for the accord during a lower-key visit to the White House. A German foreign ministry spokesman took a hard line ahead of the visit saying, "The nuclear agreement was negotiated with 7 countries and the EU and can't be renegotiated... but it is also clear that beyond the nuclear agreement we want to make sure that Iran's nuclear programme serves exclusively peaceful purposes."

Iran’s ‘three options’

In a news conference broadcast on state television in late April, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran was ready for some "surprising actions" if the nuclear deal was scrapped.

Answering a question about the possibility of Tehran withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Shamkhani said: "This is one of three options that we are considering." What exactly the other two options are was left unclear, but Rohani has said Iran will ramp up its nuclear programme if the deal collapses.

Rohani also warned Trump to stay in the nuclear deal.

"I am telling those in the White House that if they do not live up to their commitments...the Iranian government will firmly react," Rohani said in a speech .

"If anyone betrays the deal, they should know that they would face severe consequences," he told a cheering crowd of thousands gathered in the city of Tabriz. "Iran is prepared for all possible situations," he added.

Earlier in April, Rohani said Iran would make or buy any weapons it needed to defend itself in a region beset by "invading powers," as the military paraded missiles and soldiers in front of him on National Army Day.

Fighter jets and bombers flew overhead as Rohani told the Tehran crowd and a live TV audience that Iran's forces posed no threat to its neighbors.

"We tell the world that we will produce or acquire any weapons we need, and will not wait for their approval ... We tell our neighbouring countries that our weapons are not against you, it's for deterrence," Rohani said.

What the U.S. gains by pulling out

Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and a former Pentagon official, laid out the argument for Reuters for why Trump should withdrawal from the treaty: If Trump doesn’t withdraw based on a European faux-fix, it would severely weaken the United States’ standing with Iran and globally.

Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA offers other clear benefits. It would reinstate nuclear-related economic sanctions that could — if other countries to fall in line — pressure and isolate Tehran, and weaken its regional aggression.

Longer term, withdrawal offers more freedom to the United States, Israel or others to act militarily against Iranian nuclear facilities, if that becomes necessary.

The difficulty of Trump restoring sanctions on Iran

There are at least two avenues potentially offering more time for talks after May 12, difficult as that may seem given that Iran has strongly warned against reviving sanctions.

The agreement has a dispute resolution clause that provides at least 35 days to consider a claim that any party has violated its terms. That can be extended if all parties agree.

And if Trump restores the core U.S. sanctions, under U.S. law he must wait at least 180 days before imposing their most draconian consequence: targeting banks of nations that fail to cut significantly their purchases of Iranian oil.