As President Obama leaves office, he has been bragging about his ‘legacy.’ One of his proudest achievements, so he claims, was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But the truth of the matter is that the Iran Deal is a timid measure, and Trump should exploit the opportunities before him to expand upon it.
The Obama administration suggests that the deal guarantees that the time-frame for Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb has increased from 2-3 months to one year, reduced their stockpiles of enriched uranium and slashed the country’s number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds. Other measures that the White House claims to have secured are preventing them from producing weapons-grade plutonium and tracking their nuclear activities with robust transparency and inspections.
No one denies that it is a first step towards delaying Iran’s production of nuclear weapons, but, like in so many ways, Obama failed to play his hand to the full. The Islamic Republic is still funding Hezbollah and Hamas. The State Department has come under scrutiny over an explicit link between a $400 million payment and the release of prisoners. A U.S. citizen called Robin Shahini demonstrates that the United States have failed to punish Iran for its behaviour. It is fair to conclude that the deal has failed for these reasons.
The Iran Deal was a central feature in Trump’s campaign this year. Now that the American billionaire has been elected, he has a few options available to him to reform the deal and punish the Islamic Republic for their behaviour.
Firstly, the Treasury Department could put increased pressure on the Iranian economy and notorious actors such as the IRGC by restricting foreign companies’ willingness to trade with Iranian markets. The IRGC is intertwined with 35% of the Islamic Republic’s economy with no fear of sanctions. This organisation generates profits whilst supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Trump has a chance to change the thresholds to prevent companies from trading with Iran.
Or the Treasury Department could clarify that offshore dollarised transactions would be subject to U.S. jurisdiction. The Obama administration stressed that if any Iranian transactions entered the U.S., this would be a violation of their laws. But they also explained that if transactions between an Iranian company and a European bank that did not clear through the U.S., then they were outside of their jurisdiction. Therefore, Iran can still enjoy the benefits of the U.S. financial system. If Trump ended the Islamic Republic’s access to the dollar, this would add significant economic pressure that would prevent them from investing in the U.S.
Finally, the new administration also has the third option of adopting a more aggressive position towards foreign companies attempting to re-enter Iranian markets. Obama was reluctant to pursue such a measure in case it jeopardised his deal. But those companies that have already been found guilty of trading with IRGC need to be targeted with more sanctions.
The possibilities are endless for Trump in relation to the Iran Deal as soon as he enters office. But the results of Obama’s actions will not endure forever and Iran continues to behave as a dangerous actor. These are unpredictable times that require bold solutions, and Trump is the man to deliver them.