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Iran nuclear deal up in the air

Hideki Yabu

Oct. 12, 2017

The US president will soon announce his plans for the Iran nuclear deal. The international community has been left divided by the uncertainty surrounding its future.

"The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions," says US President Donald Trump. "Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States."

Donald Trump condemned the deal last month, sending shockwaves through Iran and the international community.

His remarks have made Iranian officials take a tougher line.

"If other countries abandon the deal, we shall take decisive steps," says Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Meanwhile, European countries say the agreement should be maintained.

"Iran is fully living up to its commitments," says EU Ambassador to the US David O'Sullivan. "And the view of the European Union is that this agreement is a success."

The Washington Post reported last Thursday that Trump is expected to announce this week that he will "decertify" the nuclear deal. Will Trump abandon the deal? If so, how will Iran and other countries respond? We take a look at where the deal may be headed.


This deal was agreed to in 2015. The agreement is said to be one of the political legacies of former President Barack Obama.

Iran and a group of world powers, including the United States and China, agreed to substantially curb Tehran's nuclear development.

Under the deal, Iran is committed to limiting production of highly enriched uranium that could be used in the making of nuclear weapons for a period of up to 15 years.

In return, the world powers and the United Nations lifted sanctions against Iran. Washington reporter Sara Cook summarizes the mood in the US ahead of the president's announcement.


Following Trump's speech, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley strongly criticized Iran in her address.

"We need to wake up," she said. "If we continue not to look at Iranian activities, if we continue to just to say that we will deal with that later, we will be dealing with the next North Korea."

She maintained that the nuclear deal has fundamental flaws, such as its exclusion of inspections of some military facilities.

"There are hundreds of undeclared sites that have suspicious activity that they haven't looked at," she said. "They could very well be cheating like they have done many times before."

Many members of the global community are deeply concerned about moves by the Trump administration that could cause the deal to collapse.

"Abandoning the nuclear deal without presenting an alternative will be a tremendous mistake and to not respect the deal is irresponsible," says French President Emmanuel Macron.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association, an expert on nuclear issues, warns that if the United States abandons the accord, Iran may promote its nuclear development.

"And this will increase tensions in the regions," he says. "It can create a spiral of actions and reactions in the region. And in the long term, we could have a major non-proliferation crisis on our hands and the risk of war over Iran's nuclear activities."

While waiting for Trump to decide, opinions are sharply divided even among government officials.

Attending a seminar on the nuclear deal was Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, a hardline conservative Republican with combat experience and a strong Trump backer.

"One thing I learned in the Army is that when your opponent is on his knees, you drive him to the ground and you choke him out," he said. "President Obama extended a hand and helped the Ayatollahs up. It was the dumbest and the most dangerous deal in American history."

In the question and answer session after the speech, he had a heated exchange with one participant.

"I would hope that either in the Army or at Harvard, you learned that American practice is when you have a defeated enemy on his knees you'd accept surrender and offer mercy," said an audience member.

"Iran was wounded by our sanctions but they obviously were not defeated," Cotton said. "Iran was not defeated and did not surrender in 20..."

"Yes, Iran was," the audience member interjected.

"Let me answer. You had a chance to answer your question. Let me have a chance to answer it," said Cotton.

Some key figures in the Trump administration are cautions about abandoning the deal.

"If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it," says US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

But some experts say Trump cannot change his tough stance, out of consideration for his allies, even if he decides to remain in the nuclear accord.

"The United States should think about Saudi Arabia, it should think about Israel," says Behnam Ben Taleblu from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "In the present, Iran poses a threat to our partners, to our military and diplomatic installations in the region and to our allies around the world."


Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Keio University and an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, talked about the situation with Newsroom Tokyo Anchors Aki Shibuya and Hideki Nakayama in the studio. Watch the video for their discussion.


People in Iran have been reacting sharply to Trump's threats to the deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pursued a moderate diplomatic policy and cooperated with other countries.

He played a leading role in negotiating the nuclear agreement. But after Trump began making controversial remarks about the deal, Iran's hardline politicians who've been critical of Rouhani's policies, have been gaining more support.

Reporter Hideki Yabu in Tehran brings covered the current situation in Iran.

A mass funeral was held in Tehran for Revolutionary Guards soldiers who died in military actions.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps constitutes the core of the country's anti-US hardliners, and has played a leading role in missile development and other strategic Military programs.

The corps is believed to have strongly opposed the nuclear deal, saying that it could lead to concessions to the United States.

In the presidential election in May, President Hassan Rouhani said that the elite corps deliberately promoted missile development to provoke the US. The heated rhetoric revealed the rift between the moderates and hardliners.

"The Revolutionary Guards showed its missile facilities to get in the way of the nuclear deal," said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

The Revolutionary Guards on September 23rd released footage that they claim shows a test-firing of a ballistic missile. This came soon after US President Donald Trump criticized Iran by name in his speech at the United Nations.

Iran's hardline conservatives are stepping up their confrontational stance toward the US. They have been critical of the nuclear deal. Now they are regaining strength as the Trump administration threatens to scuttle the deal.

Mehdi Amini, a lecturer at a subordinate body of the Revolutionary Guards, specializes in Iran-US relations. He has been skeptical about the deal.

"The US has never been sincere," he says. "The Trump administration's response to the nuclear deal has clearly revealed that."

Amini holds lectures across Iran. He speaks to young people on how they should face the US.

"The US is a terrorist and the Great Satan," he tells them.

The nuclear deal has been President Rouhani's biggest achievement. He has advocated a conciliatory approach. But the Trump administration is giving momentum to anti-US forces in Iran.


Watch the video for more of Koichiro Tanaka's discussion of the situation with Aki Shibuya and Hideki Nakayama.