When ‘trust, but verify’ falters:

The compliance dilemma in Iran-U.S. relations

Portland State of Mind kicked off the first lecture of a year-long series with Dr. Robert Asaadi, professor of international studies and political science. He discussed why Iran–United States cooperation in the Iran Nuclear Deal has been unsustainable, the history behind it and the effects of current policy.

“Since the U.S. withdrawal in May, both Iran and the other parties to the deal…have expressed their commitment to maintain the basic framework, which is monitoring of the nuclear program through the IAEA in exchange for sanctions relief,” said Asaadi.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the UK and the U.S.—plus Germany, aka P5+1, reached an agreement with Iran in July 2015: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Ending years of deadlock on Tehran’s nuclear program, the agreement stated if the International Atomic Energy Agency could verify Iran unplugging centrifuges and shipping out enriched uranium, the U.S. would eliminate all nuclear-related sanctions, thereby reconnecting Iran to global markets.

The plan is designed to “build trust and confidence between Iran and other world powers that are parties to the deal,” Asaadi said, “and eventually when the deal terminates, Iran’s program can go back to a normal status, reviving Iran’s image on the international stage.”

The UNSC adopted seven resolutions demanding “Iran suspend[s] its uranium enrichment program,” thus incorporated into international law.

“One of the challenges in international relations is how to make sure that states are making credible commitments,” Asaadi said. “In a relationship between Iran and the outside world, there is deficit of trust, so the idea of ‘trust, but verify’ presumes you have a relationship based on some small amount of trust.”

Donald Trump’s victory in the November 2016 election cast doubt on the deal’s fate. “The United States will reinstate all the sanctions it had waived as part of the nuclear accord,” Trump said in a press conference on May 8, “and it will impose additional economic penalties that are now being drawn up by the Treasury Department.”

“The decision unravels the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and isolates the United States from its European allies,” The New York Times reported. The other P5+1 negotiating partners have said they want to maintain the agreement, but “the U.S. withdrawal has increased the environment of uncertainty,” Asaadi said.

This year’s theme for the Middle East Studies Center Distinguished Lecture Series is “Middle East Studies: Then & Now,” focusing on different regions throughout the year.