The President’s Iran Decision: Next Steps

October 25, 2017

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

Philip H. Gordon testified before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa on Wednesday, October 25, 2017, discussing President Trump's decision to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Gordon argued that the United States can do more to counter an Iranian regime that remains implacably hostile to the United States, but the best way to do that—and to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon—is to continue to enforce the JCPOA. 

Main Points

  • The JCPOA is doing what it was designed to do—prevent Iran from advancing toward a nuclear weapons capability. Before the deal, Iran had a large and growing nuclear program and was only months away from producing enough nuclear material for a bomb. Today it is more than a year away from that capacity, committed never to “seek, acquire, or develop” a nuclear weapon or do nuclear weaponization work, and subject indefinitely to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s most intrusive inspections regime.
  • Terminating the JCPOA—as the President has threatened to do—would isolate the United States, badly undermine U.S. credibility around the world, and allow Iran to resume its full range of nuclear activities—with no realistic alternative plan for curbing them. The JCPOA resulted from more than two years of difficult, multilateral negotiations, has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, and is supported by the vast majority of countries around the world—including those whose sanctions were necessary to bring Iran to the table in the first place. The result of pulling out of the deal out of concern about “sunset” provisions more than a decade away would effectively be to “sunset” the entire agreement immediately.
  • The United States can do more to prevent Iran from threatening U.S. interests in the region and around the world while acting consistent with the JCPOA and keeping the support of its allies. It should fully enforce the deal; penalize Iran through sanctions and other measures for its long-range ballistic missile development, support for terrorism, and regional intervention; work with European allies to support such measures; strengthen key regional allies such as Israel and the Gulf States (including support for missile defense); engage diplomatically to reduce the conflicts Iran exacerbates and exploits; and begin discussions with European and other partners on ways to complement, supplement, or extend the JCPOA over time.  

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