Al-Monitor | : President Donald Trump’s tapping of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton for secretary of state and national security adviser, respectively, should do away with any pretense that the US administration wishes to “fix” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While Trump has long telegraphed his desire to undo the nuclear deal, Pompeo and especially Bolton have long advocated regime-change policies toward Iran, including war. As the May 12 deadline for Trump to renew sanctions waivers under the JCPOA approaches, five scenarios exist for how Trump’s “fix it or nix it” saga on the accord will play out.
The first possible scenario is that Europe gives in to Trump’s demands and agrees to new sanctions on Iran over its regional activities and ballistic missile program. In this case, Iran will benefit even less from the nuclear deal, especially given how much of its JCPOA-ordained sanctions relief has already been stymied by US sanctions and threatening rhetoric. Even in this scenario, there is no assurance that Trump will still not seek other ways to kill the deal. For instance, Iran may choose to remain in the deal but would retaliate against regional sanctions by forgoing any regional cooperation with the West. In recent months, Iranian diplomats have met with their European counterparts to discuss regional issues, including in London and Munich. Hamid Baeidinejad, Tehran’s ambassador to London, recently stated, “Iran and Britain have made important decisions to take action to end this [the Yemeni] crisis.” If Europe joins in on new non-nuclear sanctions, this vital diplomatic path that has started may be suspended.
The second potential scenario is that Trump follows through on his rhetoric, withdraws from the JCPOA but chooses not to block European business dealings with Iran through secondary or extraterritorial sanctions. In this scenario, Iran’s response will depend on the reaction of the remaining powers that negotiated the deal. If Russia, China and, most importantly, Europe act proactively to uphold the JCPOA and oppose further US efforts to undermine it, Iran will be incentivized to remain in the agreement. However, Trump would kill chances for US-Iran regional dialogue and cooperation with Iran and increase Iranian opposition to US interests in the region. Given that the United States is entangled in several quagmires, including Afghanistan and Yemen, Iran could — instead of potentially facilitating face-saving solutions that allow for an American departure — seek to increase the cost of America’s presence.
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