Who benefits from breaking down the Iran nuclear deal?

On May 8, 2018, Donald Trump made a decision which many world leaders had been scary of. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, claiming that this agreement did not manage to stop Tehran from missile tests and to diminish its involvement in regional conflicts. The U.S. President also has doubts if the Iran nuclear deal is efficient enough to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapon in the future.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions (commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal) was signed by foreign ministers of Iran and six world powers (the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) in July 2015. The Iran nuclear deal allowed Tehran to limit uranium-enrichment activities in exchange for lifting nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the U.S., the EU and the UN. This multilateral agreement helped remove Iran’s nuclear program from international agenda, at least for some time. However, the Iran nuclear deal has been a subject to fierce criticism by Donald Trump since the U.S. presidential campaign in 2016.

European countries, in particular, Germany, France and Britain, are most affected by Trump’s decision. European investors just started entering an Iranian market after sanctions were lifted in 2016 while several countries managed to renew an import of Iranian oil (Italy, Spain, France, Greece). The breakdown of the Iran nuclear deal will jeopardize further economic cooperation between European companies and Tehran due to a risk of U.S. sanctions. In addition, Iranian issues became another source of contention between the EU and the U.S. after Donald Trump had entered the White House.

U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal will play into the hands of Iranian conservative circles and hawks, weakening positions of the President Hassan Rouhani who made much efforts to reach the agreement. Rouhani’s rivals will blame him for much trust in U.S. and European guarantees. Iran is likely to remain committed to the nuclear deal until Rouhani’s presidential term expires. However, amid restored U.S. sanctions and deteriorating economic situation, there is a higher probability that Iranian conservatives will return to power in 2021. Subsequently, they would strive to restore uranium-enrichment activities.

Saudi Arabia and Israel praised Trump’s decision on Iran. Both countries hope that U.S. intense pressure will help weaken and isolate their principal regional rival, particularly in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal may help Russia strengthen its regional positions. First, restored U.S. sanctions against Tehran will complicate supplies of Iranian oil to European marketб squeezing Russia’s competitor in the energy field. Second, the breakdown of the Iran nuclear deal may strengthen Russia’s role as regional broker which offers mediation in settling the most heated regional conflicts amid power vacuum caused by U.S. mistakes. Third, the Iranian issue is another source of contention between the U.S. and the EU which weakens transatlantic unity on an important world policy issue. Under such conditions, several European countries (Italy, Greece, Hungary) will be given a cause to raise a question if a common approach between the U.S. and the EU to Russia makes sense, particularly, regarding Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

Summing up, U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal may shift the balance of power between global and regional actors. In turn, this increases a risk of new conflicts in the Middle East, particularly, with the direct involvement of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.