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Country Risk

US president’s statement on Iran sanctions waivers increases risk of snapback, undermining JCPOA’s longevity

17 January 2018
US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal on 13 October 2017. Source: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Trump’s renewal of sanctions waivers keeps the US technically compliant with its obligations under the JCPOA, preserving the JCPOA until May 2018 at which point he will need to once again decide whether to waive the sanctions.
  • Trump’s call for a ‘supplemental’ agreement with Europe likely reflects ongoing efforts to enlist a stronger European response against Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional expansionist policies.
  • Trump’s self-imposed ‘red line’ on the JCPOA raises the political costs of preserving the agreement in its current form beyond four months, increasing the risk of its collapse thereafter.

Event

In a statement released on 12 January 2018, US President Donald Trump waived US sanctions on Iran, as stipulated under the Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA), but stated that this would be “a last chance” before he would withdraw the US from the deal unless US Congress and European allies “fix” the JCPOA.

In October 2017, Trump decertified the JCPOA, asserting that the JCPOA in its current form was inconsistent with US national security interests. Following this declaration, the Republican-majority Congress opted not to act to snap-back US nuclear sanctions on Iran, despite being able to do so with a simple majority. This reflects divisions within Congress and even the Republican establishment regarding US policy on Iran and the JCPOA. The divisions are likely due to a combination of concerns, namely uncertainties over the consequences of a collapse of the JCPOA, European commitment to preserving the JCPOA, and US difficulties in forging a multilateral sanctions regime on Iran while Iran remains compliant under JCPOA.

Trump’s demands

After decertifying the JCPOA in October, Trump requested that Congress pass legislation that would impose new restrictions on Iran. Throughout October-December 2017, with the tax overhaul and ongoing budget negotiations, Congress did not pass any legislation to address Trump’s concerns on the JCPOA.

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