Trump broke the Iran deal. Can the church help reduce tensions?

Iranian lawmakers burn papers representing the U.S. flag and the international nuclear agreement at the parliament in Tehran on May 9, following President Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the deal. (AP Photo)Iranian lawmakers burn papers representing the U.S. flag and the international nuclear agreement at the parliament in Tehran on May 9, following President Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the deal. (AP Photo)

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Obama administration’s “Iran deal,” on May 8. That international agreement among Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United States led to Iran’s abandonment of an apparent nuclear weapons development program that threatened to further destabilize the Middle East. Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic bishops had strongly favored the agreement as a path to peace and stability in a dangerous neighborhood.

Iran has never had a nuclear bomb. It had a legal nuclear energy program, but the way in which that program had been conducted led to serious international concerns that Iran could divert fissile material to build a nuclear bomb in the future. Many developed countries have such “bomb in the basement” capacities; they do not have nuclear weapons, but they have the technical expertise to quickly build a nuclear bomb should they feel threatened.


Countries such as Japan, Canada, Australia, Germany, South Korea, Mexico and Taiwan, as well as South Africa, Brazil and Argentina (states that have given up nuclear weapons or programs) are all “latent nuclear” countries. The Iran nuclear deal was designed to shut down and inspect Iran’s “nuclear basement.” It also aimed to integrate Iran into the global economy as an incentive to remain a non-nuclear-weapons state.

Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic bishops had strongly favored the Iran agreement as a path to peace and stability in a dangerous neighborhood.

The empirical record shows that countries with integrated economies tend not to go to war with each other, even when they have different and opposing regime types, such as China and the United States. This is why the United States insisted on European economic integration after World War II; it hoped to stave off World War III.

President Richard Nixon opened relations with Communist China; President George W. Bush granted permanent trade relations with Vietnam, a communist country where over 58,000 Americans died during the Vietnam War. For generations, international trade and economic integration as a means to stabilize relations and avoid conflict have been Republican Party axioms.

With the United States now in violation of the Iran agreement, what happens next? The deal remains in force among the other signatory states. Each will decide whether to remain economically engaged with Iran or to cut economic ties because of concerns of U.S. retaliation. Russia and China will remain in the agreement. Our European allies will face contradictory pressures.

Iran will have to decide whether to continue to restrict its nuclear energy program and allow intrusive international inspections or to follow Mr. Trump’s lead and scrap the agreement. Mr. Trump’s move aids Iranian hardliners, who have long contended that the United States could not be trusted to keep its agreements and who now appear to be proved correct in that assessment.

Mr. Trump’s move aids Iranian hardliners, who have long contended that the United States could not be trusted to keep its agreements.

The church can play a positive role to de-escalate the renewed conflict. When politics is blocked at the governmental level, civil society and religious actors can often keep dialogue going among countries. The Catholic Church has had robust diplomatic relations with Iran for almost six decades. Catholic charities operate in Iran, Vatican officials and U.S. Catholic bishops meet regularly with Iranian counterparts, and Iran has more diplomats assigned to its Holy See embassy than any other country except the Dominican Republic.

Iran sits as a stable country in the middle of a massive war zone, with wars raging in its neighbors Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Mr. Trump’s latest national security advisor, John Bolton, is an unapologetic advocate of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which had been opposed by Pope John Paul II. Mr. Bolton has long advocated a plan to take the Iraq war into Iran, bombing that country and creating regime change by force. But throwing gasoline on the fires of wars in this region is a terrible policy.

The real losers after the president’s decision yesterday are Iran’s youth, who are highly educated and capable, the very people the United States ought to be reaching out to. Iran, like most of the Middle East, Africa and other states in the developing world, is a very young country. Two-thirds of Iranians are under 35.

The real losers after the president’s decision yesterday are Iran’s youth, who are highly educated and capable, the very people the United States ought to be reaching out to.

Research shows that countries with a youth bulge, an economy dependent on natural resources like oil, a flat economic growth rate and a previous history of conflict are likely to fall into vicious cycles of violence. The conflict trap has been the fate of Iran’s neighbors Iraq and Syria. Without jobs, the young are available for recruitment by violent actors.

Iran has been producing 700,000 jobs a year, but this is not enough to keep pace with the young people in need of employment. It had been in the interest of the United States—and the rest of the world—to help Iran diversify its economy and employ those youth in order to avoid war.

Increased sanctions also increases the power of criminal organizations in Iran. As the legal economy contracts with the restoration of sanctions, the illegal economy will expand. Mr. Trump’s decision should lead to a strengthening of Iran’s shadow economy, including the heroin trade.

And U.S. workers will lose jobs. Mr. Trump banned Boeing from selling civilian airplanes to Iranian airlines, nullifying a $20 billion contract. U.S. banks and technology companies will also lose business, although they will have a few months to wrap up contracts before pulling out. The U.S. oil industry wins, as they will be shielded from competition with Iranian oil.

Mr. Trump is right to note the many disputes between Iran and the United States and to point out that the Iran agreement only deals with the “bomb in the basement” problem. For example, both Iran and the United States support violent groups in Syria and the Middle East, but they back different armed groups. Iran supports Hamas and Hezbollah and armed groups that favor the Assad regime in Syria; the United States likewise spends billions to arm and aid violent actors that press for regime change in Syria.

But after nearly 40 years of frozen U.S. relations with Iran, the agreement never intended to address all disputes but sought to neutralize the most pressing (nuclear) issue first, building momentum to address other differences between the two nations.

It is not surprising that Mr. Trump broke the U.S. commitment to the Iran agreement, as he stated repeatedly that he would do so if elected president. But the United States and Iran have many common concerns, including fighting ISIS, stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, and stopping the global opioid crisis. With the U.S. government stepping away from engagement with Iran, it is now up to agents of the church and civil society to pick up the pieces.

Bonnie Weissman
2 weeks ago

Oh please. Did not vote for Trump, but we already know the Iranians have cheated big time on their nuclear program. Just last week findings from Israeli intelligence proved it, and the Israeli PM Netanyahu went over it in a major speech. Allied odd fellows Israel and Saudi Arabia support us in this quest for a better agreement. Iran's leadership regularly go on "Death to America!" rampages in spite of the agreement, which also gave them hundreds of millions of dollars.. And they consider Christians infidels, and do not allow Christians openly practicing their faith there. Their economy isn't the greatest either, and as a result, there has been social unrest here and there; perhaps this will eventually inspire the next generation to overthrow the old mullahs.

Tim O'Leary
6 days 23 hours ago

I also did not vote for Trump (I am a nevertrumper, while not blind to when he does something right). However, this article is extra-ordinarily biased and soo lefty. The writer says the Vatican has had great influence in Iran for many years. Then why haven't they managed to influence anything in a positive way? Iran is accepted by all to be a key sponsor of terror, to be a force for evil in Syria and many other places. The Vatican should be embarrassed they have so little influence there. I note all the US allies in the Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia supported the US to not support this sham of a deal. And, it was not even a treaty, because it never got approved by Congress, so it cannot actually be broken.

Christopher Lochner
2 weeks ago

Not to worry. The Iranians have been working for years to destroy Israel as part of the "path for peace" in the region. ( Path for peace meaning someone dies but we'll decide who and how. Kind of like Syrian regular people who don't matter.) And now bad old Mr. Trump will force them to use nukes. Da horror! Conventional annihilation is much less messy than nukes so maybe he'll reconsider. And fear not, for the ever resourceful agents of the church will make it right. ( Cue Bond intro theme with James pointing a papal pen at the audience) Perhaps the Ayatollah will listen to the opposition of the younger citizens? Not likely at all. World leaders still hate the Jews and Israel I wonder?

James Haraldson
2 weeks ago

This is the most foolish article ever published in the sorry history of America magazine. The Iran deal is a disgrace and was a inexcusable windfall to the Iranian regime. Iran got everything it wanted to continue developing nuclear weapons with a farce system of controlled western monitoring. Only those as morally deranged and idiotic as those typically surrounding Francis’ papacy would have ever viewed this non-binding “deal” as a good thing and legally cancelling it as “breaking” it.

America and Iran with common concerns? On what planet?!!!! Dumping billions of dollars on a rogue state committed to sponsoring terrorism around the world as a part of “the deal,” has predictably led to Iran’s expansion around the region. Rather than a new era of peace, the deal has coincided with more widespread conflict in the Middle East. Iran is now at the borders of Israel and Saudi Arabia via its own forces and proxies in Syria and Yemen. It has aided Bashar al-Assad’s destruction of his own country so he can continue to rule the hollowed-out remains. It continues its attempted takeover of Iraq. It supports terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Taliban. Wherever there is discord in the region, there are the Iranians, fueling the conflict and supporting the nastiest actors.

True, today’s intelligence challenged Vatican approved “the deal.” But this Vatican is now as deeply committed to things like abortion and the culture of death as everyone else, and in the manner that Catholic “pacifists” have typically displayed during the last hundred years, it has become quite supportive of tyrants and mass murders while confining their invective for western democracies, not to mention those defending authentic Catholic values.

J Cosgrove
2 weeks ago

America, the magazine, is a far left political magazine posing as a Catholic one. There are a few very good Catholic articles but most articles have another agenda. The thing that is consistent is world government without capitalism and without borders. so anything not supportive of these objectives is attacked.

They also seem to want a Catholic Church that is different from the one that existed for the last 2000 years.

Dolores Pap
2 weeks ago

Less than one in three Americans support U.S. pullout from Iran deal.. The people must know something?

Bonnie Weissman
2 weeks ago

Do you apply the same analogy about the fact they elected the current WH occupant?

James Haraldson
1 week 6 days ago

I suspect they might know the "Iran deal" was blatantly unconstitutional.

Lisa Weber
2 weeks ago

The current occupant of the White House is ignorant, corrupt, and dealing with sensitive issues by following his emotions. Given that he is narcissistic and a megalomaniac, following his emotions is highly likely to lead to disastrous decisions. He also wants to erase Obama's legacy - whether or not Obama's legacy was good. We are on the road to disaster with Donald Trump because he could start WWIII out of sheer ignorance. I hope the Church is able to ameliorate the effects of our national descent into madness, but I am not optimistic.

James Haraldson
1 week 6 days ago

When you calm down from you name calling long enough to catch your breath, you might take into account the Catholic moral imperative to undo the "legacy" of Obama, America's child killer in chief, and one of human history's greatest of mass murderers.

John Walton
2 weeks ago

Ms. Cusimano Love states: "The empirical record shows that countries with integrated economies tend not to go to war with each other" -- woulda surprised the French and Belgies in 1914. Honestly, do the editors of America Magazine vet these statements before they are published?

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 weeks ago

The author argues that President Trump broke the US commitment to Iran. That argument is factually bogus:
To gauge the import of the termination of the Iran Deal one need only look to its original implementation. The Iran Deal is not and was not a binding arrangement of The United States precisely because it was never submitted to Congress as a Treaty. It was not submitted to Congress by President Obama because it could not pass based on the laxness of its terms. It was opposed by leading Democrats as well as Republicans.
Consequently President Obama simply entered into this arrangement with Iran as a his own Personal Deal. Senator Cotton sent an Open letter to the Government of Iran pointing out that the Deal could not constitutionally bind the United States and could be reversed by any subsequent President. Senator Cotton was archly criticized for this action despite the fact that it stated a basic and fundamental truth.

In short there never was any US commitment and the Iranian leaders knew it. The predicate upon which this article rests is a fallacy.

Further the statements made by the Obama Administration in promoting this Deal were outright knowing misrepresentations. Secretary Muniz statement that the Deal provided for ..."Any time , anywhere inspections" is conspicuously false. But that statement was presented as the basic underpinning of the entire Deal.

Thomas Farrelly
2 weeks ago

To answer the question, the Church can do nothing to reduce tensions. The Iranians do not give a rap about what the Pope or the US Bishops say.
This article argues one side of a very complicated question, and does not do so very convincingly. Perhaps America should stop taking positions on complex problems in which it has no expertise.
My opinion is that the "deal" was somewhat useful in the short run but had many defects. The Obama administration took what they could get and it wasn't very good. Is Trump's approach wiser? Only time will tell.

Randal Agostini
2 weeks ago

This article is naive in the extreme and does a disservice to "America." God help the students who study under Maryann, but I suppose they may live in the same fairyland world. It is not easy to be the major superpower in the world - it attracts naysayers, but it also has to have the stomach to act responsibly. I am encouraged that this President has re-introduced prayer into his deliberations, a habit that we could all develop as an introduction to the Holy Spirit - the seat of wisdom.

arthur mccaffrey
1 week 6 days ago

when the only tool you have is a Catholic hammer, every problem looks like a Catholic nail.

Curt Brackenrich
2 weeks ago

This column is amazing in its ignorance of the subject. There is zero mention of the intelligence recently shared by Israel on the blatant cheating by Iran on the deal. How Iran never had any intention of following the deal, and the author shows her political bias in her desire to simply believe that the Iranian leadership have suddenly seen the light and now want to be good players on the world stage, integrated into the world economy, etc. This truly was one of the worst international deals ever ratified, oh wait, it never WAS ratified. Wel it was certainly one of the worst deals ever signed, oh wait, Iran never even signed the thing, did we all know that little fact? What a terrible, biased article.

rose-ellen caminer
2 weeks ago

Without a deal, what leverage does the US have? War with Iran?

J Cosgrove
2 weeks ago

Economic sanctions

rose-ellen caminer
1 week 6 days ago

Multilateral sanctions brought us a deal. Unilateral abrogation of the deal, and unilateral sanctions are leverage? How?

J Cosgrove
1 week 6 days ago

Multilateral sanctions brought us a deal

Is this true? Or did we revive a basket case with $150 billion to let them mobilize terror?

Read and watch. Apparently you are not reading everything. Europe, especially Germany, prefers the US to Iran. They will be given a choice. Will see how it plays out. All the right people are complaining!

Robert Lewis
1 week 6 days ago

The Europeans are already announcing that not only will they defy the United States regarding sanctions, but that they will impose "clawback" reprisals against American firms seeking to do business in Europe, if their firms are sanctioned against in the United States.

rose-ellen caminer
1 week 6 days ago

Preferring us to Iran? What does that even mean? They're pulling out of the deal too? The question is what leverage does the US have, if our sanctions on Iran are unilateral?

I agree they are mobilizing terror, in Syria assisting Assad's/Putin's holocaust against Sunnis Syrians. But we have allowed them to for nine years now, with an occasional pin prick to assuage our principle of opposing the use of chemical weapons. We also enabled them to mobilize terror, when in Iraq we installed a Shia/Kurd only government with a green light to persecute Iraqi Sunnis, after we ethnically cleansed Baghdad of its Sunni people. Before our invasion, Baghdad had a mixed population of Sunni/Shia's and others, many intermarried.Now its predominantly Shia; where are the Baghdad Sunni people of yesteryear? The US, with the aid of Iranian backed Shia militia's murdered them all. Our inaction in Syria and our actions in Iraq, have us complicit in terror, including Iranian terror.

James Schwarzwalder
1 week 6 days ago

Professor M. C. Love tells us that Iran has had robust diplomatic relations with the Vatican for six decades. That relationship did not seem to get us much yardage during the Iranian hostage crisis. Remember that little episode? The overwhelming election of Ronald Reagan was the reason the American hostages were finally released. Even though I would have stuck with the current nuclear deal, I do think it was a poor deal for the US. I would have trickIed out the 150 billion or so of frozen Iranian assets a little each year to insure compliance. I guess the bar gets set low these days. President Obama got the Noble Peace Prize for simply winning an election.

Steve Magnotta
1 week 6 days ago

Let's hope and pray that some grown ups come forth to mitigate the damage this monster is doing, and to stop him doing more. He is a moral and ethical reprobate of the first degree.
It's nearly incomprehensible that so many regard him as a force for good.
Sad stuff. Sad, sorry times. God help us.

Robert Lewis
1 week 6 days ago

Short answer: absolutely not.
American Catholics won't even pay attention to the evidence that Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches and institutions that attempt to minister to Palestinians are persecuted by the Zionist State. American Catholics seem to be as heretically "dispensationalist" as Protestant Fundamentalists!…

wallace miguel
1 week 2 days ago

I think that trump is a strategist, I believe that with the advancement of the world he will know how to handle our country for growth, even if he is a bit radical, I think the way he thinks can leverage our country. Nothing against everyone's opinion.

Raymond Marey
1 week 1 day ago

Would you comment on why Obama didn't send this Iran deal to the senate for treaty ratification? Was it a treaty? And why Schumer at the time said publicly he would not support the deal? BTW, I can understand a justified anger, but in this case, you weren't listening to then candidate, President Trump, clearly and repeatedly said in 2016. What basis can you be angry with the american public?

Patrick Robinson
6 days 9 hours ago

Does anyone think the Iran deal executively ordered by Obama did not have major flaws? A 10 year sunset that will allow Iran to start the nuclear bomb process in less than a decade, and no limits at all on ballistic missiles and terror promotion. Macron and many others noted the flaws. Iran refuses to fix a deal that allows them those benefits while also charging its economic engine. Trump's decision to reverse the Obama order will have the following net effect: Iran will stay in the deal as is to keep the economic benefits from Europe. Europe will ask Iran to change these unacceptable flaws and Iran will refuse. In the interim, we will no longer be stoking Iran's economic engine.


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