On June 1, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and immediately cease implementation of the commitments the United States had made in signing it in December 2015.
He claimed he had come to his decision for a variety of debunked rationales and added that he would be open to renegotiating U.S. climate commitments to be more favorable for U.S. interests. But that is not how diplomacy works, and instead of putting America first, the author of the "Art of the Deal" is actually putting America last.
On May 25, President Trump provided a stark example of just how damaging his disregard for upholding our commitments can be. He spoke to NATO leaders at the alliance’s new headquarters in Brussels, where he publicly chastised them for failing to spend more on defense and simultaneously failed to clearly reassert the solemn pledge of mutual defense that has undergirded the most successful alliance in human history for almost 70 years.
To strengthen the alliance and build solidarity to advance his global agenda, President Obama chose the opposite approach during his first meeting with NATO leaders in April 2009, observing that, “NATO was founded on the basis of a simple but solemn commitment: An attack on one is an attack on all. And from that foundation we forged the strongest alliance in history, an alliance that is stronger because it is made up of free nations”.
After Trump’s embarrassing NATO visit and his stubborn subsequent refusal to express support for the Paris Agreement to his G-7 colleagues at their meeting in Italy, German Chancellor Merkel declared that Europe “must really take our fate into our own hands. ”
The Paris climate agreement reflects a fundamental truth: We all must take action to meet the challenges of our times. America does not exist in a cocoon or a vacuum; the actions and reactions of humans across the globe are not contained by borders. That interdependence is fundamental to life on this planet in the 21st century.
Let’s set aside the multitude of environmental and economic reasons that the president made the wrong decisions on and address the dangerous precedent he may be setting — and decisions he may be hinting at — regarding other major international agreements.
The risk is that this reversal is one in what may be a series of “undoings” that could profoundly damage America’s standing in the world, along with the security and health of the planet that we will leave to our children and grandchildren. For example, there is significant risk that the historic multinational agreement to stop Iran’s nuclear program — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — may be the next victim of a campaign promise.
With all other parties to the agreement in support of its continued implementation, pulling out of it or renegotiating its terms will put us on the wrong side of history, diminish our power, alienate our friends and embolden our adversaries.
Like the Paris Agreement, the JCPOA addresses a major threat to international security that brought together both allies and adversaries. President Trump seems to have little appreciation for how the JCPOA benefits the United States. He thinks both agreements were raw deals for us and evidently resents that other countries benefit at all from our participation.
As a participant in the policy process that led up to the conclusion of the JCPOA and as the former deputy secretary of a cabinet agency charged with holding the Iranian regime accountable for implementation of the agreement, I know that the agreement accomplished exactly what the U.S. wanted and needed it to do.
It dismantled Iran’s nuclear program and established intrusive enforcement mechanisms (via the International Atomic Energy Agency, backed by the technical support of many U.S. experts) that put the burden on Iran to prove its compliance.
Iran has already shipped 25,000 pounds of enriched uranium out of the country, dismantled and removed two-thirds of its centrifuges that would have produced uranium for nuclear weapons; removed the calandria from its heavy water reactor that would have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons and filled it with concrete; and provided unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities and supply chain that means we can verify its compliance at every step of the way.
Each of these actions make it harder for Iran to restart its large-scale enrichment program that is essential to building nuclear weapons — making the world measurably and verifiably safer.
President Trump seems to believe that a mythical better deal exists that addresses all Iranian destabilizing behaviors in the world. It doesn't. The president also seems to view these drastic decisions as bargaining tools that will induce the international community to give the U.S. exactly what it wants. They are not. Rather, his “America First” policy is an isolationist fantasy that will lead to an America that is alone and behind.
Were we to pull out of the JCPOA as he is pulling out of the Paris Agreement, our decision would also be condemned by friends, and it would have even more immediate and serious consequences by giving Iran a justification to abrogate the terms of the deal.
However, if the president is truly eager to make use of his negotiating talents, Iran may present him with just such an opportunity. During the recent Iranian presidential campaign, Hassan Rouhani not only reaffirmed the JCPOA, he also expressed a willingness to negotiate with the U.S. on other issues for which we continue to sanction them.
Rouhani was reelected by a substantial margin, suggesting that he could have the mandate to do so. If President Trump chooses to pursue the other legitimate issues about which we have serious concerns, such as Iran’s active ballistic missile program, support for terrorist groups and its human rights record, he should explore new diplomatic engagements that build on the success of the JPCOA rather than undermine JCPOA commitments that have made the United States and its allies safer and more secure.
Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall served as the deputy secretary of energy from 2014-2017 and the White House coordinator for defense policy, countering WMD and arms control in 2013-2014.
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