Trump’s reckless, dishonest, myopic blustering on Iran nuclear agreement weakens U.S. national security
With a blast of bombast, Donald Trump made clear once again this week that he wants to dump or renegotiate the Iran nuclear agreement—known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—which he calls “an embarrassment to the United States.” He also says he has already made up his mind about what to do, but he’s not telling anybody what he has decided. And he seems to mean not anybody.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters that UK Prime Minister Theresa May asked Trump if he would tell her what he had decided, but he wouldn’t. Hardly surprising since Tillerson himself hasn’t been told, saying: “He has not shared that with anyone externally.” He said that Trump will announce his decision “when he thinks it is useful to let you know.” White House chief of staff John Kelly, who reflected the feelings of lots of Americans when he publicly face-palmed during Trump’s grotesque speech to the United Nations Tuesday, seems to know. But while he is signaling his feelings regarding his boss’s oratory in other ways, he’s not talking about what may be coming on Iran.
The twisted reality we now live in has spurred the nation’s chief diplomat to consider himself “external” when it comes to major matters of U.S. foreign policy.
The response to Trump’s bluster and enigmatism has been highly critical. For instance, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said all parties to the agreement are in compliance, including Iran, and “There is no need to renegotiate parts of the agreement because the agreement is concerning a nuclear program and as such is delivering.” Yukiya Amano, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran is complying with the agreement, noting that that nation “is now subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.”
What the agreement has done is close off pathways to an Iranian nuclear weapon for the immediate future and open the door to improved relations. Since signing, Iran has dismantled two-thirds of its uranium enrichment centrifuges, plugged its plutonium-producing reactor with concrete, exported more than 20,000 pounds of uranium, put a cap on how much uranium can be enriched to the level needed for research reactors, shipped away its spent fuel, and allowed highly intrusive international inspections.
All of this doesn’t matter to the regime squatting in the White House.
But after last summer’s recertification, he made it clear to his team that he wanted them not to recertify a third time, on or before October 15, when the next 90 days are up. So it’s no surprise that several sources are saying Trump is leaning toward not recertifying. If this is his decision, it will trigger a 60-day period in which Congress is charged with deciding whether to impose new economic sanctions on Iran.
If Iran were in fact out of compliance, this would be an appropriate response. But it’s not. And Trump knows full well this is the case. Not certifying under these circumstances is the height of dishonesty. But then dishonesty is the core of the Trump White House’s mission statement.
Trump and some U.S. hawks want an amended agreement—or at least a supplemental one—to prohibit Iran’s ballistic missile development and end Tehran’s support for groups the U.S. labels as terrorist. They see not recertifying as a first step toward getting Iran to return to the negotiating table.
But while failure to recertify would enrapture U.S. hard-line hawks who didn’t want the agreement in the first place, it would play right into the hands of Iran’s hard-liners, who also didn’t want the agreement in the first place. And it would profoundly complicate future diplomatic efforts not only with Iran, but also with the other five nations who signed the agreement after 20 months of difficult negotiations.
It’s not just hard-liners who say Trump’s moves could smash the agreement. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate by Iranian standards, said Wednesday the agreement would collapse if the U.S. pulled out, which presumably includes not certifying that Tehran is meeting its obligations:
“This is a building the frame of which, if you take out a single brick, the entire building will collapse,” Rouhani said.
“This issue must be understood by the American officials,” he added. “Either the JCPOA will remain as it is in its entirety or it will cease to exist.”
Seventy-eight prominent members of the European Leadership Network, including former foreign ministers and prime ministers of 20 nations, issued a lengthy statement in the matter Monday. Included in it:
For as long as Iran complies, the agreement deserves to be defended:
- Unilateral action by any side would play into the hands of hardliners who wish to subvert the deal for reasons that lie outside it and who would only be strengthened by the agreement’s weakening.
- Jeopardizing the agreement would not make Iran less likely to acquire nuclear weapons. On the contrary, it could precipitate another Middle East crisis that would, at the least, distract from international counter-terrorism efforts.
- Trying to use the JCPOA to control Iran’s missile programme would make the best the enemy of the good: the agreement means Iran’s missiles will not carry nuclear warheads and it already may have helped redirect Iran’s missile programme away from ICBM development.
- US concerns would gain more respect and support if pursued multilaterally. This would make it easier for America’s allies to help address the other ways in which Iran undermines security in the Middle East. […]
The European Union, Moscow, Beijing, London, Paris and Berlin are also signatories of this multilateral agreement. Europe has a larger stake than the United States in the strict enforcement of the Iran nuclear deal, a larger stake in the increased security that it provides, a larger stake in whether or not Iran goes nuclear, and a larger stake in countering any non-nuclear Iranian misbehaviour. Europe at this moment should not stand idly by.
We therefore urge the deal’s European signatories – the European Union and the German, French, Russian and British governments – to make clear publicly as well as privately in Washington that:
- While they remain keen to explore legitimate US concerns, not certifying Iranian compliance when the IAEA says Iran is in compliance would be unwarranted and they would not be in a position to support the United States on this in the Security Council;
- They would work to see the nuclear deal continued with Iran, even in the absence of US participation, and that could include defending European companies and individuals from any re-introduced US sanctions and supporting legal action to do so.
- They remain keen to work with the United States and the region to tackle broader questions of Iran’s foreign and security policy, such as its missile development and support for Hezbollah, which will require a mix of push-back, containment and dialogue;
- If in these circumstances US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were re-imposed, there would be unavoidable damage to the United States’ international standing that would put additional pressure on US-Europe relations.
And we urge President Trump and the US Congress to:
- Address the facts of Iranian compliance on the terms of the deal, not on other points.
- Consider that this multinational nuclear deal cannot be expected to solve non-nuclear issues and should not be instrumentalised in pursuit of bilateral confrontation.
- Engage with the machinery of the JCPOA to address any US compliance concerns multilaterally.
- Build on the deal to see whether it can be increased in duration and extended in scope to other countries of the region, as recently urged by leading US and ELN voices.
- Accept that the fastest path to an Iranian nuclear weapon would be to undermine this agreement.
At the moment, Donald Trump seems prepared to blow all that off. Anyone who thinks this would improve our national security has a screw loose.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Image CC by DonkeyHotey on Flickr.)