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Secondary sanctions, enforced by the Treasury Department, seek to deny foreign financial institutions and firms access to the US financial system, making it impossible for them to obtain dollars. (Most US primary sanctions, prohibiting US firms and individuals from trading with or investing in Iran, have remained in place. These were imposed for reasons not related to Iran’s nuclear programs.)

In 2015, President Obama suspended existing secondary sanctions in order to win Iran’s adherence to the nuclear freeze agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under the agreement, Iran has halted activities that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons and accepted rigorous international inspections of its nuclear sites for a period of 15 years. The Republican-led Congress, with the backing of many Democrats, was highly skeptical of the deal and enacted the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, requiring the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is in compliance and that it remains in the US national interest to waive the sanctions. That’s the certification due by Saturday.

With secondary sanctions suspended, oil trading firms are now sending 500,000-600,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil to Europe. If Trump ends the waiver on secondary sanctions, these firms — not wanting to lose their access to dollars — will presumably stop trading in Iranian oil, cutting global supplies and causing the price to rise. It is already rising in response to a possible move by Trump.

Will voters react against a gas price rise by turning against Republicans in the 2018 congressional election? Perhaps not. Some will agree with Trump that it’s time to “get tough on Iran.” Anyway, by the time the November election rolls around, Saudi Arabia and other anti-Iran Arab states may have boosted output to cushion any blow to Trump.

But voters should still be deeply worried if Trump backs away from JCPOA. If Iran decides to resume its nuclear weapons development program in response, war could be the eventual result. Trump has already threatened “big problems” for Iran if it resumes its nuclear program, and nuclear-armed Israel regards Iran as an existential threat. Even if Trump does not initiate military action against Iran, the possibility of an Israeli pre-emptive strike is very real. If Iran retaliates, the United States could move to defend Israel — and any other state in the region Iran might attack. Such a conflict could well have a nuclear dimension and constitute a major setback for the global economy.

President Trump has long been an outspoken opponent of the Iran nuclear agreement and has chafed at making the certification required by Congress, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency, which conducts the inspections, consistently reports that Iran is in fact complying. France, Britain, and Germany, US allies who are also parties to JCPOA, have repeatedly argued that the world is a safer place with the agreement in force and urged Trump not to blow it up. In October 2017 and January 2018, Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance but refrained from ending the secondary sanctions waivers.

How could Trump refuse to certify that Iran is complying with the agreement when it is in fact complying? Trump and his backers cite Iran’s ongoing ballistic missile tests, its intervention in Syria, and its support for Hezbollah, the armed Shia Islamist political party and militia which is active in Lebanon and Syria. The United States has long considered Hezbollah a terrorist group. Critics point out that these matters are not the subject matter of the JCPOA, which instead was aimed at averting a disastrous conflict by freezing the Iran nuclear program. Administration spokespeople, such as UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, ignore this reality and insist that Iran is not living up to the “spirit” of the accord. Trump also criticizes the 15-year time limit in JCPOA, but the agreement requires that Iran implement an “Additional Protocol” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed. This would give the IAEA enhanced powers of inspection indefinitely.

The Administration’s case is weak, but it appears to be plunging ahead in any case. Trump’s seeming determination to destroy all of President Obama’s achievements may be playing a role here, and if that’s the case, he’s allowing a personal grudge to influence policy decisions of gravest import. News that Trump officials hired an Israeli intelligence firm to turn up compromising information on Obama officials who negotiated the deal does not inspire confidence in this regard.

We can only hope that Trump advisors will dissuade him from taking a potentially disastrous action. Or perhaps our European allies can save us. Perhaps they can manage to convince Trump that new agreements can be negotiated to deal with his concerns about Iran’s behavior on non-nuclear matters. But this approach has already been tried unsuccessfully, and now time is very short. Or perhaps our allies can find a way to persuade Iran to remain in compliance and allow the inspections to continue. That would deprive Trump and Israel of any immediate rationale for attacking and allow some time for reason to prevail.