Walking away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a mistake, former US president Barack Obama said, asserting that the deal negotiated by his administration had worked in rolling back Iran's nuclear programme.
"I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake," Obama said in a rare statement issued yesterday after US President Donald Trump announced to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and signed an executive order imposing new sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian nuclear deal was a signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration. The former president said without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.
Noting that all are aware of the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, he said it could embolden an already dangerous regime, threaten friends with destruction, pose unacceptable dangers to America's own security and trigger an arms race in the world's most dangerous region.
"If the constraints on Iran's nuclear programme under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it," he said.
In a dangerous world, Obama said, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure its country.
"We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans 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," he said.
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In probably his first statement on foreign policy after he left the White House in January 2017, Obama said there were few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons or the potential for an even more destructive war in the Middle East. That's why the United States negotiated the JCPOA in the first place, he said.
"The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current US secretary of defence," the former president said.
The JCPOA is in America's interest it has significantly rolled back Iran's nuclear programme, he added.
"And the JCPOA is a model for what diplomacy can accomplish its inspections and verification regime is precisely what the United States should be working to put in place with North Korea. 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," he said.
That is why the announcement is so misguided, Obama said, adding, "Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America's closest allies, and an agreement that our country's leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated."
In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one administration to the next, he acknowledged.
"But 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," Obama said.
The former president also he laid out some facts about the JCPOA.
"First, the JCPOA was not just an agreement between my administration and the Iranian government. After years of building an international coalition that could impose crippling sanctions on Iran, we reached the JCPOA together with the UK, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran. It is a multilateral arms control deal, unanimously endorsed by a UNSC Resolution," he said.
"Second, the JCPOA has worked in rolling back Iran's nuclear programme."
Since the JCPOA was implemented, Iran had destroyed the core of a reactor that could have produced weapons-grade plutonium; removed two-thirds of its centrifuges (over 13,000) and placed them under international monitoring; and eliminated 97 per cent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, he said.
"Third, the JCPOA does not rely on trust it is rooted in the most far-reaching inspections and verification regime ever negotiated in an arms control deal. Iran's nuclear facilities are strictly monitored. International monitors also have access to Iran's entire nuclear supply chain. Without the JCPOA, this monitoring and inspections regime would go away," Obama said.
Fourth, Iran was complying with the JCPOA, he asserted. "That was not simply the view of my administration. The United States intelligence community has continued to find that Iran is meeting its responsibilities under the deal and has reported as much to Congress. So have our closest allies, and the international agency responsible for verifying Iranian compliance the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," he said.
Fifth, the JCPOA does not expire, Obama added.
"The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is permanent. Some of the most important and intrusive inspections codified by the JCPOA are permanent. Even as some of the provisions do become less strict with time, this won't happen until 10, 15, 20 or 25 years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today," the former president said.