Donald Trump’s decision to “decertify” Iran—which really means that the administration no longer is prepared to certify that Tehran is complying with the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as the Iran nuclear agreement—actually would do nothing to the deal itself. All decertification means is that the Congress can choose to re-impose prior sanctions on Iran or impose new ones. In other words, the president is merely creating the perception that he is acting decisively; he is not, as he promised, actually taking the United States out of the agreement. Indeed, had he chosen to do so, Trump simply could have refused to issue the waivers that kept the pre-agreement sanctions from being imposed. Instead, when faced with a tough decision, the president blinked.
There is a general consensus that the JCPOA is a flawed agreement. It has not prevented Iran from continuing its missile development program. It has not forced Iran to open its military facilities to inspection. Its duration is far too short: even its lengthiest provision, which calls for IAEA monitoring of uranium ore concentrate produced by Iran from all uranium ore concentrate plants for twenty-five years, is really nothing more than a blink of an eye to a nation with a history spanning several millennia. At issue, however, is whether it is possible to renegotiate the JCPOA’s provisions, and, if not, what might be the implications of a new round of Congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.