SOAS University of London

Centre for Iranian Studies

The Future of the Iran Nuclear Accord (JCPOA) under the Trump Administration

Bahram Ghiassee, University of Surrey

Date: 6 December 2017Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 6 December 2017Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: MBI Al Jaber Building, 21 Russell Square Room: MBI Al Jaber Seminar Room

Type of Event: Seminar

The Iran Nuclear Accord, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is officially known, is facing an uncertain future. President Trump has repeatedly expressed his disdain for the JCPOA, and has referred to it as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” 

In line with the new Administration’s policy shift towards the Nuclear Accord, President Trump, on 13 October 2017, made the anticipated announcement that, “based on the factual record”, he was not in a position to certify that the suspension of sanctions under the Nuclear Accord is “appropriate and proportionate” to measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program.

The President, under the ‘Iran Nuclear Agreement Act of 2015’, is required to certify to the U.S. Congress, every 90 days, that Iran is in compliance, and he had done so on two previous occasions. In the absence of certification, the Act requires the Congress to consider within 60 days, whether to adopt new legislation (laws) to re-instate the nuclear-related sanctions. It is most unlikely that Congress would adopt new legislation detrimental to the JCPOA, noting (i) the current stance of the Congress on the issue; (ii) the continued support of the international allies of the U.S. for the full implementation of the JCPOA; and (iii) repeated confirmation by the IAEA, the UN Secretary General, and the UN Security Council ‘Facilitator’, that Iran has been in full compliance with its nuclear-related commitments.

However, the Congress has, since the non-certification announcement, introduced draft legislation (laws) in relation to Iran’s ‘Ballistic Missiles’, ‘Sponsorship of Terrorism’, and ‘Human Rights’ issues, which will strengthen the sanctions regimes against Iran, but will not diminish the U.S. commitments under the JCPOA.  

In relation to multilateral agreements, Mr Trump had made a number of pledges during his presidential campaign. He has fulfilled some of these pledges - withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Agreement; abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and renegotiating the North America Free Trade Association (NAFTA).  None were, however, endorsed by the UNSC, whereas the JCPOA has been endorsed by the UNSC Resolution 2231, thus transforming the political commitments undertaken by the U.S. and other JCPOA participants into binding international legal obligations. 

A unilateral re-imposition of sanctions, leading to eventual withdrawal of the U.S. from the JCPOA, would be construed by the international community as the U.S. violation of its international legal obligations. Iran would, then, be in apposition to (i) invoke the dispute resolution procedure under the JCPOA; (ii) refer the issue to the UN Security Council; or (iii) bring the issue before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

Unilateral action would not, necessarily, lead to the dissolution of the JCPOA, as Iran, the EU, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the UK have pledged their adherence and commitment to its continuation, but would render the implementation of the JCPOA more difficult, impacting negatively on Iran’s economic development. It would, also, isolate the U.S. from its international partners, and would undermine the U.S. standing, vis-à-vis, the international community, the support of which it needs in resolving the current North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile crises.

Dr Bahram Ghiassee is a visiting academic in International Nuclear Law, at University of Surrey, UK. He holds dual qualifications in Nuclear Science & Technology (MSc, DIC, PhD, Imperial College London) and International Law (LLB, LLM, University of London). Bahram is, inter alia, a member of the International Nuclear Law Association (Brussels), and the World Institute for Nuclear Security (Vienna). He is also a chartered member of the UK Nuclear Institute, and recipient of the Institute’s Pinkerton Prize. Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Security are the subject of his research and publications, and his latest work, a book chapter published in September 2017, is titled ‘Nuclear Security – Transcending the Policy Objectives of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime’. (contact e-mail:

Organised by: Department of Near and Middle East Studies and the Department of Politics and International Studies in collaboration with the Centre for Iranian Studies, SOAS.

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