On Friday, President Trump announced that he’d not revoke Mr. Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran. Twice in 2017 he certified Iran’s continued compliance with the deal and in October refused to do so but still didn’t revoke the deal.
The president’s statement said, “I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal. In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately. No one should doubt my word.” He set a deadline of 120 days, ending in May, to meet his conditions.
By these actions the president in effect again certified Iran’s compliance with Obama’s 2015 deal. By stating that there would be no more such waivers and that his condition — renegotiation of the deal — must be met by May he’s doing a “reverse Corleone”: making an offer the rest of the signatories to the deal must refuse.
The president might want to set a diplomatic trap for Iran and Europe so that when the deal isn’t renegotiated by May planning to blame them for his decision to withdraw from it. It won’t work. Iran, Europe, Russia and China will blame him for a U.S. withdrawal, and condemn it, whenever and however it occurs.
More likely is that in the days before the May deadline, the president’s advisors and European (and Russian and Chinese) diplomats will find new ways to convince him not to withdraw from the deal.
The president said that the deal should be renegotiated to require real inspections of Iran’s nuclear development sites (which are off limits now to UN inspectors), made permanent to prevent Iran from ever obtaining nukes and revised to include undefined limits on Iran’s ICBM development program.
Trump will have no support for his renegotiation demand. The Iranian government immediately refused renegotiations. Our European “allies” have formally rejected renegotiation several times, including in a meeting one day before the president’s Friday statement. Russia and China — also parties to the deal — have rejected any renegotiation.
It’s all a diplomatic masquerade, a pretense of renegotiation which can have no result other than failure.
To be fair to the president, while he declared the deal the “worst possible” during his campaign and after, he never specifically promised to revoke it. He’s surrounded with advisers and politicians such as National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Sen. Bob Corker, and UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson who are unanimous in their fervent desire to keep the deal in place.
But their desires amount to a political excuse for Trump’s action, not in any sense a good reason for it. The good reasons to cancel the deal are many and important.
First is the fact that the deal doesn’t work as advertised. Iran has limited UN inspectors’ access to non-military sites and is, under secret side deals the public (and the U.S. Senate) have never seen, allowed to self-inspect the sites the inspectors can’t search. Unsurprisingly, Iran reports that there’s nothing going on at those sites that violates the deal even a little bit.
In short, there is no basis to determine that Iran is complying with the deal. And it gets worse.
Second, we know that Iran is partnered with North Korea in developing both nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. North Korea may have already sold Iran several nuclear weapons. We also know that there’s a train that runs from Pyongyang to Tehran and back, a trip that takes about fourteen days. To state the obvious, it can carry scientists, engineers, nuclear weapons, and missiles. There’s not a lot of tourist traffic it has to accommodate.
Third, from the outset, Iran has refused to even acknowledge the legitimacy of the deal. Thanks to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), we have translations of several communications to and from the Iranian parliament (the Majlis) and the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei including speeches and resolutions addressing the lack of validity of the deal Obama made. They are comprehensively illuminating.
For example, the Iranian news agency ISNA published a letter from Khamenei to the Majlis dated September 3, 2015. In it, Khamenei wrote that he did not accept the terms of the agreement and demanded that the sanctions be permanently removed, not suspended as the agreement provides.
On October 13, 2015, the Majlis approved not the deal as agreed on with the P5+1 group (the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) but its own amended version of it. The Iranian version attaches nine conditions including Khamenei’s demand that the sanctions be permanently removed rather than stayed.
The Iranian version translated by MEMRI also stipulates that throughout the eight-year period of the initial stage of the agreement, “…any imposition of sanctions at any level under any pretext (including repetitive and fabricated pretext of terrorism and human rights) on the part of any of the countries involved in the negotiations will constitute a violation of the JCPOA [the official title of the agreement] and the Iranian government would be obligated to take the necessary action as per Clause 3 of the Majlis bill and stop its activities committed under the JCPOA.”
From these translations, it’s obvious that Iran doesn’t and hasn’t ever accepted the validity of the agreement and believes it has no duty to abide by it. The imposition of new sanctions accomplished by the Treasury Department on Friday only serve to reinforce Iran’s belief that it has no duty to abide by the agreement.
Where the president goes from here is entirely unclear.
All the president has done is kick the can down the road for four months. Between now and then he can expect continued refusals to renegotiate and worse.
The UN’s purblind nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, has a long track record of ignoring the facts of Iran’s nuclear weapons development. Under its former leader, Egyptian Mohammed el-Baradei, it actively and intentionally turned a blind eye to Iran’s nuclear development for a dozen years. Between now and May, the IAEA can be counted on to insist that Iran is complying with the Obama deal.
For those keeping score, I predicted in my January 1 column that the president wouldn’t revoke the deal in January. Whether he will do so in May is highly doubtful. Between now and then he will be under enormous pressure from his advisors — Secretary of State Tillerson and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster — not to revoke it. Diplomats and heads of state of the rest of the P5+1 group will join in pressuring him to keep America in the deal.
It’s possible that the president will reject their combined advice and revoke the deal in May. I wouldn’t bet the ranch that he will.