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The Uncertain Future of the Iran Nuclear Deal

By: Alexandra Perona

Iran is a nation that has a complex history. Once a strong ally of the West, it is now considered an existential threat like Russia and North Korea.Over time, there have been attempts to change these hostile diplomatic relations. The most recent attempt is the Iran Nuclear Deal under the Obama Administration.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, was a diplomatic step towards changing Iran’s relations with the West. One of the deal’s components called for the international community’s involvement in Iran’s nuclear affairs, namely rebuilding the Arak heavy water reactor with designs only approved by the international community participating in the deal such as Germany and Russia.

There has been fear regarding the deal, mainly from allies in the Middle East like Israel and Saudi Arabia, namely that it enables Iran to enrich uranium to manufacture weapons. However, the terms of the deal stipulate that uranium cannot be enriched more than 3.67 percent, which is too small to manufacture nuclear weapons. There has also been pushback from Middle Eastern allies, such as Israel. Israel, one of the United States’ strongest allies, expresses concerns that Iran could provide proxies, like Hezbollah, with nuclear weapons because Iran already supplies them missiles.

The status of the Iranian Nuclear Deal has changed. Relations between the European Union and Iran have sharply declined as Iran’s ballistic missile program and “assassination plots against Iranian dissenters in Europe” have come to light.Additionally, President Trump pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in May 2018, despite members of his administration advising him to remain part of the agreement. Some may argue that termination would be illegal since a treaty can only be ratified with two-thirds majority of the Senate.For example, in Goldwater v. Carter, The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia determined that President Carter’s termination of a defense treaty was invalid without “consent of two-thirds of the Senate or majority vote by both houses of Congress.” However, on appeal, the Supreme Court dismissed the case stating it was “essentially a political question that could not be reviewed by the court.”Courts define political questions into two categories: 1) one branch is taking on the duties that are delegated to another branch and thus, doing a subpar job or 2) the court is missing a legal basis for a decision.

If Congress were to challenged Trump’s decision to withdrawal from the nuclear deal, it would likely fail as the Court would determine it is a political question. Based on precedent, the court would determine that the disagreement about the withdrawal is an internal branch issue. Therefore, the withdrawal would remain valid.

Due to discrepancies in the nuclear deal, such as reinstatement of sanctions if obligations are not met, there are difficulties in determining whether terms have been violated. One could argue that Iran would be liable under international law, such as UN resolutions, should they violate the nuclear deal. In 2016, the United Nations passed resolution 71/258, called the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Only 122 states signed the agreement, while those who opted out of the negotiations included the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries: North Korea, Israel, India, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, China, France, the United States, and Russia.Notably, one of the countries that decided not to sign the agreement was Iran.

Countries that opted in agreed to be subjected to some of the following provisions: not to “develop or attempt to possess nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, transfer control of nuclear weapons to another by direct or indirect means, nor install or deploy nuclear weapons in its territory or in territory under its control.”If Iran had decided to be part of the treaty, it would be obvious if it decided to supply nuclear capabilities to proxies and non-state actors like Hezbollah. The Iran Nuclear Deal sets a low level of nuclear proliferation. For Iran to be able to create nuclear weapons, it would violate the set standard of the Nuclear Deal and the Treaty on the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

When Iran signed the nuclear deal, they indirectly subjected themselves to the provision of the UN treaty. In the nuclear deal, Iran agreed that nuclear enrichment would be capped at a low level to prevent development of nuclear proliferations. Thus, if Iran were to make above the required standard, it would be violating anti-nuclear proliferation provisions in the nuclear deal as well as the UN Treaty Against Nuclear Proliferation.

However, the enforceability of the UN resolution is questionable. The United States, Britain, and France held a joint statement in which all three claimed that neither “intended to sign, ratify, or ever become a party” to the resolution. Given the lack of stronger powers support, it may be unlikely that Iran could be liable for violating obligations. Prevention of nuclear capabilities, especially for existential threats like Iran, is a significant issue. However, enforceability and verification with policies can be difficult to implement. This is due in part because Iran has decided to opt out of treaties and resolutions that could hold them accountable for violations independent of the Iran Nuclear Deal.


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