With the U.S. posture toward the Iran Nuclear Deal in question following President Donald Trump's recent decision to decertify the agreement, there is a growing international concern for what the move may mean moving ahead.
Four Texas A&M University professors gathered Wednesday evening as part of the Bush School of Government and Public Service's "What's Next?" lecture series to discuss the controversial deal and how Trump's recent actions could impact relations with Iran moving forward.
Nearly 100 students and members of the campus community packed into a meeting room on the third floor of Rudder Tower to listen to and participate in the presentation.
William Norris, Bush School professor of security policy and recent associate with the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he views the lecture series as an opportunity for students and other community members to gather to learn more about complex issues such as the Iran Nuclear Deal.
"This is an issue that is a complicated one," Norris said. "Part of this ['What's Next?'] initiative is designed to reach out to the general public and make available some of the expertise that we have here at A&M."
The panel of speakers included Marvin L. Adams, professor and director of the Institute of National Security Education and Research; Mohammad Tabaar, Bush School assistant professor of international affairs and expert on international security and Middle East politics; Sunil Chirayath, associate professor, Texas A&M Department Nuclear Engineering, and director of the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute; and Norris as moderator.
The experts covered a broad range of topics relating to the agreement, including the technical reality of developing a nuclear weapon, the political climate and attitudes in Iran surrounding the deal, the monitoring currently in place and a few scenarios for how the situation could change moving forward.
Officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran Nuclear Deal was passed under the Obama administration in 2015 through the cooperation of the U.S., France, China, Germany, the United Kingdom and Russia.
Trump has long been an opponent of the deal, using it as a frequent talking point throughout his campaign for the presidency.
For the U.S. domestic policy regarding the agreement to remain in effect, the Iran Nuclear Deal must be recertified by Trump every 90 days -- a requirement that the president forewent in October, stating that his administration believes Iran has violated the "spirit" of the agreement.
Trump's move has been criticized by some U.S. allies who believe the nation has remained in compliance with the terms of the deal.
Norris noted, however, that the Trump administration's decertification of the agreement does not withdraw the U.S. from the deal, but rather forces Congress to decide by mid-December on whether or not to reimpose the sanctions on Iran.
Chirayath said if the U.S. were to decide to reimpose additional sanctions, the move would probably be considered a violation of the agreement.
Tabaar said even allowing for the possibility of the U.S. to break the terms of the deal "empowers the narrative" pushed by some in the Iranian government that the U.S. is not trustworthy.
He said while there is a portion of the Iranian population that would like to see the nation open up its relationship with the U.S., there are many in power who see that possibility as a threat to their own authority.
"I think the fear is if Iran improves its relationship with the U.S., it would be at the expense of [the regime] and could empower a different part of the state," Tabaar said. "You need to make a distinction between the interest of the state and the interest of the regime, or at least certain factions of the regime."
Tabaar said even if renegotiation of the deal were a possibility, there would be "no trust" at this point that the new agreement would be honored.
Looking more specifically at the technical and regulatory side of the deal, Adams said one of the positive things the agreement did was remove Iran's ability to create large quantities of plutonium quickly, giving international regulators time to inspect plants and evaluate for any actions that would violate the deal.
Adams said the agreement "drastically reduced" how much material Iran had to "feed into their nuclear facilities," the capabilities of its facilities and, "very importantly," implemented an "intrusive" inspection routine.
"Even if they decided to pull the trigger today and start the one-year leap time [to make a weapon], we would know, and we would have time to respond," he said. "… The goal is to reduce the probability that there will be a breakout and to lengthen the time it would take to get there."
Chirayath said despite some concerns that the Iranian government may be running its operation in secret between inspections, it would be nearly impossible to hide the forensic evidence left behind by the work.
Both Chirayath and Adams agreed that if facilities are "contaminated with uranium, there's absolutely no way to hide it."
Ultimately, Tabaar said he believes Iran will continue to abide by the agreement as long as the U.S. "sticks to the deal" and it is still able to do business with other countries.
One thing he said he will be interested in moving forward is if the uncertainty surrounding the deal may lead to a return of more conservative, hawkish political leaders.
"That would signify a change in the political landscape," Tabaar said. "... It will be interesting to see how the political landscape could shift."