Is Iran really as bad as Donald Trump says?

Donald Trump's announcement that the US is withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal came in a speech littered with serious claims against the regime, including "definitive proof" that Iran "lied" about its nuclear programme.  

But is Iran really as bad as Mr Trump says?

Mr Trump said the deal initiated by the Obama administration fails to address Iran's ballistic missile programme or its alleged support of terror in the Middle East. 

"The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror," Trump said. 

"It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terrorist proxies and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al Qaeda." 

"No action taken by the regime has been more dangerous than its pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them." 

While Iran accepted restrictions on its nuclear work under the 2015 agreement - a programme it said was purely for peaceful purposes - it has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile programme - an issue that appears to have provoked President Trump.

Professor Al Gillespie of the University of Waikato told Newshub on Wednesday that Trump is correct in that the nuclear deal does not cover missile tests, and Iran does have its hands in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen and political interference in Lebanon. The agreement also has a sunset clause of 2025. 

However, the agreement was "only designed to stop Iran 'breaking out' and getting a nuke," Professor Gillespie said. "It was the best deal possible at the time."

Is Iran cheating?

Professor Gillespie highlighted that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Iran is not cheating on the deal.

This is despite claims made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April that Iran is cheating on the nuclear deal by hiding nuclear weapons. 

However, key documents presented as evidence by Netanyahu had previously been seen by the IAEA as early as 2005 and made public by the agency in 2011, the Guardian reported. 

Professor Gillespie said it's unlikely that Iran would want to cheat on the deal because of the benefits it has experienced of having sanctions lifted. 

With sanctions lifted in 2016, Iran gained access to more than US$100 billion in frozen assets abroad, and was able to resume selling oil and using the global financial system for trade, according to a BBC report. 

The UN would also maintain a ban on the import of ballistic missile technology for up to eight years. 

Iran has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile programme.
Iran has repeatedly refused to discuss its missile programme. Photo credit: AAP

But with the 2015 JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) now broken, Iran could "walk away from the JCPOA and start the enrichment of uranium, without international restraints or oversights - again," said Professor Gillespie. 

"If they go full speed, they could get a nuclear weapon, probably within a year to 18 months. If Iran follows this path, it is likely that other countries in the region who feel threatened by Iran (Saudi Arabia and Turkey) will start their own nuclear programmes to have their own nuclear deterrents." 

"In addition, there is the strong risk that Israel (a nuclear power) will strike Iran first, as it simply will not tolerate Iran being nuclear-armed." 

Some of Trump's own senior administration officials don't back his decision to withdraw from the deal. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats have both said Iran is adhering to its commitments under the deal, a CNN report claims. 

But Trump has argued that while Iran might be honouring the deal, they have violated its spirit by fostering discord in the region.

Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake tweeted his disappointment on Tuesday saying the nuclear deal "had many flaws but withdrawing now does not serve our national interest."

French President Emmanuel Macron has lobbied Trump to honour the Iran nuclear deal alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both European leaders recently travelled to Washington to make their appeals to the US President in person - but to no avail. 

Will this affect New Zealand? 

New Zealand has growing trade relations with Iran. These are "good and growing", said Professor Gillespie - especially since the nuclear deal was agreed. He said New Zealand "should support this trade, as Iran has been in full compliance with the JCPOA which opened the door for trade." 

"If Iran walks away from the JCPOA, all sanctions will snap back, and all New Zealand and Iran trade relations will probably stop. If Iran stays in the JCPOA, but America leaves, it will get difficult with New Zealand firms having trade with Iran, but also having deals with the United States." 

Another area of concern for New Zealand is that it's directly impacted by North Korea in the Pacific. Trump's move to break the United States' deal with Iran could influence North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un to turn his back on Trump, who is set to meet with Kim soon to discuss ending North Korea's nuclear programme (a date and location have reportedly been set).  

"Kim will be watching to see what Trump does with Iran. He will realise that any deal is only as good as the President," said Professor Gillespie. 

"This will have a chill wind on negotiations with North Korea."