US exit from Iran nuclear deal: Who will it hurt?

Trump’s withdrawal will exacerbate Middle East conflicts, destabilise Iran and isolate US from allies, say analysts.

Trump Iran deal
Donald Trump's announcement sent shockwaves around the world [Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters]

US President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and is set to renew sanctions on Iran.

Trump said on Tuesday that the landmark pact, signed under his predecessor, Barack Obama, was “defective at its core” and would lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Labelling Iran “a regime of great terror”, Trump said that the deal, under which Iran accepted limits on its ability to produce nuclear material for 15 years, only delays the country from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

“There has been enough suffering, death and destruction, let it end now,” Trump declared. 

The move sent shockwaves around the world, and analysts say US‘ exit is likely to have the opposite effect Trump intended. They said it could instead exacerbate conflict in the Middle East, destabilise Iran and isolate the US on the international stage.

Trump has fulfilled a key campaign pledge in withdrawing from the 2015 agreement, worked out between US, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Iran’s regional foes, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have long opposed it.  

The deal was Obama’s biggest foreign policy achievement, and Tirta Parsi, author of “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy”, said the main reason behind Trump’s pull out was “because it had Obama’s name on it”.

The recent appointment of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser – two of the Iran agreement’s most vociferous critics – “ensured this decision was made faster”, he added.

‘Back on the brink’

Calling the move “disastrous”, Parsi said the US’ exit puts the Middle East “back on the brink of war”.

Tensions could escalate in any of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, he said, from Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led coalition has been fighting Iranian-backed rebels for more than three years, or in Syria, where Iranian intervention in support of President Bashar al-Assad has angered Israel.

Parsi also described the US decision as a “blow” to President Hassan Rouhani and moderate forces in Iran. It “will strengthen the hand of hardliners” and put them “in the driving seat and they will be pushing for a much more radical and aggressive foreign policy”, he said.

The US will not remain unaffected either, he continued. 

Trump’s announcement will “isolate” the US and strain relations with its allies in Europe, he said, noting that Britain, France and Germany, who are party to the deal have pledged to honour the accord, while Trump has promised to punish any countries that stand by Iran.

Fatemeh Aman, a Washington DC-based political analyst, said Trump’s decision was due to worry over Iran’s expanding political influence in the Middle East.

“Tonight’s decision may have been bolstered by the recent elections in Lebanon in which Iran’s allies have won and the upcoming elections in Iraq where pro-Iran’s politicians are poised to win,” she told Al Jazeera.

She said the decision will have “dire consequences on the Iranian middle class” and agreed with Parsi that it would embolden conservative forces opposed to Rouhani’s government.

Economic blow

Mohammad Marandi, professor at the University of Tehran, said the renewed sanctions will be “painful for a while”.

However, he noted the deal had not brought the economic revival Iranians had hoped for, as many US sanctions remained in place despite the agreement. The economy is now in freefall while the value of the currency has plummeted in recent months. 

But Marandi was hopeful Iran could weather the crisis with the help of new allies.

“At the international level, our relationship with China and Russia has evolved. The US has, in fact, pushed three countries closer to each other,” he said.

“Our regional position is different to a decade ago, too. Iran has strong regional allies and good neighborly relations.”

He said he doubted if the US move could force Iran back to the negotiating table.

“No one in Iran will ever want to negotiate with the US as long as Trump is in power,” he said. “There’s no reason to talk to them because they cannot be trusted.”

Iran showed flexibility in previous negotiations, and if it did agree to reopen the accord, it is likely to “take much tougher stances,” he said. “But that will not happen anytime soon”. 

Source: Al Jazeera