Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Editorial | Playing with bombs is dangerous, Mr Trump

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

It's the nature of how Jamaica conducts its foreign policy these days that we either remain silent or waffle on the big global issues of the day. Like our abstention at the United Nations in the vote over America's decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and the Government's incoherence in explaining its decision.

However, neither Jamaica nor the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), of which Kingston used to be the intellectual leader, can afford to be quiet or inchoate about a big global issue that could have seriously destabilising consequences for the economies of this region.

Last week, Donald Trump, the mercurial president of the United States, pulled out of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers - the US, Britain, Russia, France, China, and Germany - aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, with which everyone, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, except for Mr Trump, Israel, and a few of Iran's Middle East competitors, says Tehran is in compliance. Mr Trump has begun to impose economic sanctions on Iran, although these, thus far, are not directly related to his decision.

Under the pact, signed in 2015, the Iranians were to reduce their nuclear centrifuges by two-thirds for 10 years and to enrich uranium at a single facility. For a decade and a half, enrichment could not reach further than the minimum level required to generate nuclear power, and, therefore, well below the level required for making bombs. Further, its nuclear facilities would be under inspection for a quarter of a century.

In exchange for these concessions, the West would lift a raft of sanctions that had badly hobbled the Iranian economy. This deal was the signature foreign-policy achievement of Mr Trump's predecessor and America's first black president, Barack Obama. Very rarely in any negotiation does any side get all that it wishes for. So, nobody claimed that the so-called six-plus-one agreement was perfect. There is consensus among responsible people, however, that if it ever was, Iran is not now on the verge of producing a nuclear bomb and would have a long way to go before reaching there.

 

CONTAINING TEHRAN'S EMERGENCE

 

Mr Trump and his fellow travellers, though, insist to the contrary, grounding their arguments not so much in science and reality, but the need to contain Tehran's emergence as a regional power, with its tentacles in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Notably, Mr Trump jettisoned the agreement despite proposals by the Europeans for additional arrangements to address Mr Trump's ostensible concerns, leading many people to conclude that the president's real motivation is to undo Mr Obama's achievements.

CARICOM, including Jamaica, has a clear stake in this issue. Its members are all signatories to the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which is aimed at keeping nuclear weapons out of Latin America and the Caribbean, which, to its logical conclusion, translates to support for non-proliferation everywhere.

The Iranians, as yet, are unclear about whether they will seek to salvage the agreement with the remaining five signatories and the European Union. But as things now stand, the global environment is more unstable than a week ago and will become even more so if the Iranians resume nuclear enrichment and ambitions for a bomb. It could lead to war with the Middle East's only nuclear power, Israel. Already, the emerging tensions are finding their way into higher oil prices, which is bad for a Jamaican economy that is in a fragile transition to growth.

Significantly, America's action goes to trust, or the lack thereof. Washington's action means that countries, in the Age of Trump, can't enter treaties and agreements believing that they are sacrosanct. They can be ripped up by the next president, based on whim or political expedience.

That has the odour of a banana republic and of tin-pot dictators, which is not what the United States used to be. The Caribbean, with Jamaica in the lead, should advise Mr Trump of this.