Why Trump Should Preserve the Iran Deal
Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP, File
Why Trump Should Preserve the Iran Deal
Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP, File

This article was created in collaboration with the Atlantic Council. Barbara Slavin is acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council. The views expressed are the author's own.

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President Donald Trump is going to be a very busy man on Jan. 20, 2017, reviewing, revising, and in some cases reversing President Barack Obama’s legacy.

One very important element in that legacy that he should leave in place is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated with Iran by the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany, and the European Union and implemented on Jan. 16 this year.

Unlike many of those who ran against him for the Republican nomination, Trump criticized the JCPOA during the campaign but did not threaten to rip it up on day one as president. For a businessman like Trump, it makes no sense to break a contract without a replacement in hand, especially when that contract is continuing to deliver important benefits to the United States and the international community.

Those benefits include:

Shrink-wrapping the Iranian nuclear program so that there is no way Iran can build a nuclear weapon undetected for at least 15 years.

Strengthening international non-proliferation norms and discouraging Iran’s neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, from seeking nuclear weapons of their own.

Reintegrating Iran into the international economy and bolstering those advocating reform of Iran’s banking and commercial sector.

Providing tens of thousands of high-paying American jobs through the sale of commercial airliners to Iran Air by Boeing and Airbus – a transaction that hopefully will not be disrupted by the Trump victory.

 No easy way out

The product of years of painstaking multilateral negotiations, the JCPOA cannot be easily replaced. U.S. European allies, along with China and Russia – a country whose leader Trump admires – would also react very negatively to any U.S. abrogation of the agreement, assuming Iran continues full compliance. It is by no means certain that they would accept a re-imposition of U.S. secondary sanctions that threaten to penalize their companies for doing legitimate business with Iran.

Why would a new President Trump create a crisis in relations with the international community at the beginning of his tenure?

The agreement carries within it a mechanism for resolving disputes and potentially tweaking aspects of the accord – a Joint Commission on which representatives of each of the negotiating parties sit.  Trump could also take up the suggestion of Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and others to augment the agreement by negotiating a follow-on pact to deal with Iranian missile tests and to prolong provisions of the JCPOA that begin to sunset a decade from now.

As a businessman, Trump knows that it is foolish to throw away assets for which you have already paid. During the campaign, Trump complained that Iran had gotten $150 billion in return for its nuclear concessions. That money was Iran’s in the form of oil revenues frozen in foreign banks under sanctions, and it is not going to be returned now.

There is also the question of upholding presidential powers.

At an event Thursday at the Stimson Center in Washington, Lincoln Bloomfield, the Centre’s chairman and a former senior national security official in three Republican administrations, noted that if Trump were to tear up the executive agreement that laid the basis for U.S. compliance with the JCPOA, he would be “debasing the currency of the presidency.”

Bloomfield added that Republicans had been out of the White House for so long that they had perhaps forgotten the value of such currency in convincing foreign governments to do deals with the United States. If Trump goes through with his other campaign pledges to renegotiate trade agreements, for example, he will need foreign leaders to believe that those agreements will outlast his time in office.

There are multiple pressing national security threats that will likely be in Trump's in-box on Jan. 20, from North Korea’s real and growing nuclear weapons arsenal to the ongoing destabilization of much of the Middle East.

Why, then, throw away an agreement that is verifiably preventing Iran from joining the nuclear weapons club and risking a major new war in a region already in flames?

In other words, President-elect Trump: if it aint’ broken yet, why fix it?