Former President Barack Obama criticized President Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal, in a statement released on May 8th. Barack Obama called the decision a “serious mistake,” and said, “the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”
President Trump made the announcement that the US would be pulling out of the JCPOA on Tuesday, stating that the deal was “defective at its core.” The President also claimed that the Iran deal “didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.” Though President Trump’s decision to exit the deal had long been part of his platform, it still reverberated throughout the international and US intelligence communities. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake.” Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats have both reported previously that Iran is adhering to the rules of the agreement.
The statement from Barack Obama lays out six arguments for staying in the Iran nuclear deal, and why pulling out of the deal is risky. Obama was also careful to note that he did not believe this move was simply to reverse one of his key policy wins, saying: “In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next.” However, he noted that “the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.” This point was echoed by Ian Bremmer, president and founder of political risk consultancy the Eurasia Group. In regards to relations with Germany, France, and the UK, all countries who maintain their position within the Iran deal, Bremmer said “they’re not seeing the United State as an ally they can really count on,” according to CBS News.
Former President Barack Obama built his statement on the principle facts of the Iran nuclear deal. He emphasized that the deal has worked in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program, citing the removal of “over 13,000” centrifuges and the elimination of “97 percent of [Iran’s] stockpile of enriched uranium.” Obama also pointed out that the deal was never set to expire, saying: “Even as some of the provisions in the JCPOA do become less strict with time, this won’t happen until ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today.” And although President Trump noted in his remarks that the deal “gave this regime —and it’s a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars,” Barack Obama addressed the fact that Iran was viewed as unstable when the deal was made, saying “Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.”
The withdrawal from the Iran deal comes at a precarious time, as President Trump readies himself to attempt making a similar deal with North Korea. In his statement, published via his official Facebook page, Barack Obama wrote: “Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.” Similarly, Tony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state who helped create the Iran deal, told CNN: “By decrying the Iran deal and saying it’s a piece of trash, he has to get a better deal with North Korea to justify it.” Blinken also questioned whether the United States would still be credible enough to maintain a similar deal with North Korea, saying “Why should [Kim Jong Un] believe anything we put on paper if we’re prepared to tear it up?”
Despite criticism and wariness from Barack Obama and other world leaders, the US withdrawal from the JCPOA has received its share of support from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a report from the Associated Press, Netanyahu praised the President’s withdrawal as “historic.” He also highlighted the potential dangers Israel faces from Iran, saying: “Despite the deal, the terrorist regime in Tehran is developing a ballistic missiles capability, ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads far and wide, to many parts of the world.” This statement seemed to reiterate information found in Iranian documents provided to the US by Netanyahu, that President Trump said were “conclusively showing the Iranians’ regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.” However, while these documents were legitimate, they did not reveal any information that was not already known in the international community, according to a fact checking report by CNN. In addition, despite Iran’s past intentions of creating nuclear weapons, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the independent body which is responsible for inspections on Iran’s nuclear program, had reported that Iran was complying with the rules of the JCPOA.
Along with the statement from Barack Obama, former Obama administration officials have also criticized the US withdrawal from the JCPOA. Former President Joe Biden wrote in his own statement: “This wholly unnecessary crisis could ultimately put the safety of our country and our fellow citizens, including thousands of men and women in uniform serving across the Middle East, at risk by setting us back on a path to war with Iran.” Former secretary of state John Kerry summed up all of the issues with the US withdrawal in his own statement saying that President Trump’s decision “weakens our security, breaks America’s word, isolates us from our European allies, puts Israel at greater risk, empowers Iran’s hardliners, and reduces our global leverage to address Tehran’s misbehavior.” Kerry also noted that the decision would damage “the ability of future Administrations to make international agreements.” In the closing paragraphs of his statement, Barack Obama makes a plea for Americans to “continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.”
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