Donald Trump’s election as president raises the prospect the United States will pull out of the nuclear pact it signed last year with Iran, alienating Washington from its allies and potentially freeing Iran to act on its ambitions.
Outgoing President Barack Obama’s administration touted the deal, a legacy foreign policy achievement, as a way to suspend Tehran’s suspected drive to develop atomic weapons. In return Obama, a Democrat, agreed to a lifting of most sanctions.
The deal, harshly opposed by Republicans in Congress, was reached as a political commitment rather than a treaty ratified by lawmakers, making it vulnerable to a new U.S. president, such as Trump, who might disagree with its terms.
A Republican, Trump ran for the White House opposing the deal but contradictory statements made it unclear how he would act. In an upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump won on Tuesday and will succeed Obama on Jan. 20.
A businessman-turned-politician who has never held public office, Trump called the nuclear pact a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated” during his campaign and said it could lead to a “nuclear holocaust.”
In a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in March, Trump declared that his “Number-One priority” would be to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”
He said he would have negotiated a better deal, with longer restrictions, but somewhat paradoxically, he criticized remaining U.S. sanctions that prevent American companies from dealing with Iran.
By contrast, he has conceded it would be hard to destroy a deal enshrined in a United Nations resolution. In August 2015, he said he would not “rip up” the nuclear deal, but that he would “police that contract so tough they don’t have a chance.”
Iran denies ever having considered developing atomic weapons. But experts said any U.S. violation of the deal would allow Iran also to pull back from its commitments to curb nuclear development.
Those commitments include reducing the number of its centrifuges by two-thirds, capping its level of uranium enrichment well below the level needed for bomb-grade material, reducing its enriched uranium stockpile from around 10,000 kg to 300 kg for 15 years, and submitting to international inspections to verify its compliance.