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Ex-US Assistant Secretary of State: Iran deal is functioning, no need to pull out

Thomas Countryman (Mainichi)

WASHINGTON -- Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman, who was involved with the Iran nuclear deal under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, has warned about the possibility of current President Donald Trump pulling out of the deal, saying it could create a situation worse than before.

Countryman, who now serves as chairman of the board of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, commented on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

"The JCPOA is an agreement that is working," Countryman said. "It has required Iran to give up 90 percent of its uranium, 75 percent of its centrifuges, agree to full time monitoring by the International Atomic Energy, and it permanently prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I think it's an important and valuable agreement."

The nuclear deal sets a 10-year limit on Iran's enrichment of uranium in centrifuges. Countryman said it would be valuable if some of the periods after which Iran is allowed to resume certain activities -- ranging from seven to 12 years from now -- were extended. He said the right way to do this "is not to tear up the agreement and demand unilaterally that it be changed" but to "continue strict implementation of the agreement and to build the kind of relationship with Iran that will allow a follow up agreement."

"There is a right way and a wrong way to improve it," Countryman said. As Trump has pointed out, Iran has conducted ballistic missile tests and supported terrorism in the Middle East, which has been a cause for concern. But Countryman noted, "Mr. Trump is choosing the way that will not improve the deal but will destroy the deal and create a situation that is worse than we had in 2015" when the comprehensive agreement was reached.

"What we have done is to postpone a problem that was real in 2013 and put it off 10 years into the future and potentially put it off forever," Countryman said. "That is a solution. Does (Israeli Prime Minister) Mr. (Benjamin) Netanyahu have a better solution? No. Does Mr. Trump have a better solution? No.

"They want to return to the situation we had in 2013. But you don't start over on this. It's not one of Mr. Trump's hotels where he can declare bankruptcy and try to negotiate a better deal. It doesn't work that way," he said.

Countryman noted that the U.S. has enormous financial leverage because of the importance of the dollar, and sanctions would have a significant effect on the Iranian economy. But he also pointed out that while most of the world supported the U.S. between 2011 and 2014 in its imposing of sanctions and restriction of Iran's oil earnings, there would not be the same level of support this time.

"They were responding to a crisis created by Iranian actions. You cannot expect the entire world to respond the same way to a crisis created by American actions," he said.

(Japanese original by Haruyuki Aikawa, North America General Bureau)

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