As announced Thursday, President Donald Trump is expected to make good on his campaign promise to decertify Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
The Administration is “fully committed to addressing the totality of Iranian threats and malign activities and seeks to bring about a change in the Iranian regime’s behavior,” said a State Department official. This behavior includes “support for terrorism,” “unrelenting hostility to Israel,” “consistently threatening freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf,” “arbitrary detentions of US citizens,” support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and cyberattacks against the US and its allies.
Trump, who has criticized the JCPOA as “the worst deal ever negotiated” has until October 15th to decide whether Iran is complying with the deal. If he decides to nix the deal, Congress will have 60 days to determine a path forward.
“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed, and chaos across the Middle East,” said Trump on Thursday. “That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions. They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”
It is not clear whether Congress would be willing to reimpose sanctions on Iran. Nearly all Democrats, even those who voted against it, now support the JCPOA.
“The majority of the GOP aren’t excited about this,” one envoy said. “They want to avoid a crisis and they don’t want to kill the agreement.”
The JCPOA was designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Despite more than a year of “arduous” negotiations with Iran and other countries, all the deal managed to do was give Iran the money it needed to ramp up its nuclear program.
Thanks to Obama, Iran received $150 billion in frozen funds and a controversial shipment of $440 million in cash. In the end, the JCPOA proved two things: 1) Obama has no negotiation skills whatsoever and 2) Iran was never planning to follow through on the deal.
Democrats argue that ending the deal will undermine America’s credibility to uphold commitments with other countries. Others worry that the collapse of the deal could cause an arms race in the already-volatile Middle East.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is one of few in the Trump Administration who believes we should continue to uphold the deal unless we can prove Iran is not abiding by it or that it is not our national interest to do so. When asked by a senator whether he thought we should remain in the pact, Mattis replied, “Yes, senator, I do.”
Last month, foreign ministers representing countries that are part of the deal – France, Britain, Germany, China, Russia, and Iran – argued that the JCPOA was designed only to address Iran’s nuclear program and that Iran has lived up to the commitments outlined in the plan.
“All the evidence to date is that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA,” said a European diplomat on Thursday. “The JCPOA is a hard-fought international agreement that is vital to our security and that of our allies; our priority is working with the deal and making it deliver for our shared security interests.”
Another option would be to amend US legislation in order to shift the focus away from the nuclear issue. This would allow the US to remain in the deal while at the same time adopting a more aggressive strategy towards Iran’s other destabilizing behaviors.
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it, “The problem with the JCPOA is not the JCPOA.” The problem is the legislation, which requires President Trump to recertify it every 90 days. If the Administration could put the nuclear issue on the backburner, everyone could get back to work dealing with other Iran-related issues.
“This approach could allow the US to stay in the deal but help Trump avoid the political headache of having to re-certify it every 90 days,” reports CNN. It might also keep the Europeans on board with Trump’s efforts to fight back against Tehran’s other destabilizing behaviors.
Editor’s note: It is clear that some have their heads in the sand, much like Obama and Kerry did when they negotiated it. Trump is proceeding as he is forced to do.