Most Americans oppose scrapping the Iran nuclear deal

Here’s something interesting. Earlier today, the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC) released the findings of a poll showing that almost two-thirds of Americans oppose the idea of withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and attempting to renegotiate its terms. Overall, 63.7% of respondents prefer to “continue with the deal as long as Iran complies with the terms,” while only 34.4% would rather “withdraw from the current deal and seek to negotiate a new deal.”

President-elect (ffffuuuuuu) Trump, of course, campaigned heavily on the idea that the JCPOA was a bad deal—“the worst deal ever negotiated,” in his words—that should be renegotiated at a minimum, if not scrapped altogether. If the poll is right, then most Americans disagree with his assessment, though (as you might expect) the partisan split in the poll was high—58.1% of Republicans support renegotiating the deal, while 85.6% of Democrats and 58.6% of independents want to leave it in place. The primary driver of the “keep it in place” side seems to be a pretty firm–and I would argue correct–feeling that Iran would be unwilling to negotiate a new deal or renegotiate the JCPOA’s terms if the US were to walk away from the deal as it exists now. Nearly 70% of respondents believed it “unlikely” that Iran would be amenable to new talks, including substantial majorities among people of all three party affiliations. Interestingly, a little under 58% of respondents think it’s likely that the other nations that were party to the deal would agree to abandon it if the US did, which I think is seriously misguided but maybe that’s just me.

It remains to be seen whether Trump will be susceptible to public opinion on this issue, particular when his top foreign policy adviser, National Security Advisor-designate Michael Flynn, is stridently anti-Iran. Still, as Jim Lobe notes, Trump’s FP team isn’t uniformly anti-JCPOA:

Although generally quite hawkish toward Iran, top appointments to his administration so far have been divided on the JCPOA. Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.), is strongly opposed to it, while his nominee for secretary of state, Gen. James Mattis (ret.), believes the deal is flawed but worth sustaining. A U.S. withdrawal or reimposition of sanctions, he warned last spring, would prove largely ineffective or even counter-productive because the other parties in the P5+1 (Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) were highly unlikely to go along.

Congress is another consideration here, of course; there are enough hawks in both houses to support at least some piecemeal challenges to the JCPOA–they may not vote to back out of the deal, but they could, for example, vote to block any more economic aid or business deals going to Iran, or to reimpose former nuclear-related sanctions under some alternate justification, and it’s hard to know how Trump would respond to something like that. These poll results suggest that Congress should also tread carefully here.

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