Trump To Keep Iran Nuclear Deal, For Now
During the campaign for President, Donald Trump was one of the harshest critics of the deal that the United States and other nations had reached with Iran to limit the Iranian nuclear weapons research program, claiming like most of his fellow candidates on the Republican side that it was a bad deal that would put cash in Iran’s pocket while simultaneously guaranteeing that their nuclear program would survive. Now that he’s President, though, he’s taking a far different position on the agreement:
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration signaled on Wednesday that it would not, for now, jettison the Iran nuclear deal, despite the president’s harsh criticism of the agreement during the campaign.
Facing a deadline of Thursday, the administration said it was waiving sanctions against Iran, as required under the deal. To have done otherwise would have violated the accord, freeing the Iranians to resume the production of nuclear fuel without any of the limits negotiated by the Obama administration two years ago.
But while acknowledging that the deal would remain in place, the administration imposed modest new sanctions against several Iranian individuals and four organizations, including a China-based network that supplied missile-related items to a key Iranian defense entity.
That appeared to be an effort to mollify Republican critics of the deal, which President Trump has called a “disaster” and said he would have negotiated far more skillfully.
“The U.S. and its partners will continue to apply pressure on Iran to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms for everyone in Iran,” said Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who will be traveling with Mr. Trump to the Middle East at the end of the week.
The Trump administration has said that it is continuing to study the Iran nuclear deal, leaving a door open to leaving it at some point.
But three months into the administration, Mr. Trump has softened his criticism — just as he has decided so far not to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement, or pull out of NATO, or impose sanctions on China over currency manipulation.
“From the very beginning, it’s been clear they couldn’t renege on the deal without cause,” said Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s top nuclear adviser in the first term, who helped organize the pressure campaign on Iran that ultimately led it to the negotiating table.
If Mr. Trump had made good on pledges to scrap the arrangement, “the U.S. would have been entirely isolated, and no one else would have resumed sanctions,” said Mr. Samore, who is now the executive director at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard.
The announcement came two days before Iranian elections, and just before Mr. Trump’s first overseas trip as president.
His first stops are in Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of which opposed the deal but now concede it is working, at least so far.
A unit inside the National Security Council has been working on ways to counter Iran, but it is unclear whether it had proposed a far harsher approach.
At a moment when Mr. Trump is consumed by troubles at home and viewed with suspicion by allies, however, there was no appetite in the White House for a breach with Iran.
Leaving aside the fact that the Trump Administration is currently distracted by the seemingly endless series of revelations related to the investigation into Russian interference in the election and Trump campaign contacts with Russia, there quite simply isn’t any good reason to back out of the deal, and no indication that the United States would have any support from its international partners if it tried to renege on the deal. For one thing, all of the available evidence indicates that Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal with respect to halting certain forms of research, turning over raw materials used in the program, and allowing international inspectors to have access to its research facilities to ensure compliance with the terms of the deal. Because of that, it’s unlikely that Trump would be able to obtain agreement from any of the American allies that were involved in the talks that lead up to the deal, much less from Russia and China. Additionally, the lifting of sanctions in connection with the deal has created a tremendous boom in business between Iran and the outside world, including several American companies that have begun taking advantage of the lifting of sanctions. Were the United States to try to reimpose those sanctions, it would likely be opposed by the rest of the world and by business interests here in the United States. Finally, with Iran facing elections tomorrow, reneging on the deal would likely have enhanced the position of the radicals in Iran who are opposed to the deal and undermined the position of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was key to the success of the negotiations in Switzerland that led to the deal.
Much of this goes to show just how different it is to be a candidate for President as opposed to actually being President. As a candidate, Trump was free to join his fellow Republicans in denouncing the Iran nuclear deal as the ‘worst deal in history,’ as he described it on more than one occasion. This is especially true given the fact that polling at the time showed the vast majority of Republican voters opposed the deal, something that likely remains true to this deal. Now that he is President, though, Trump must deal with the realities on the ground and the fact that reneging on this deal would do irreparable damage to the ability of the United States to negotiate agreement with anyone in the future since it would be impossible for them to know if they’d have the rug pulled out from under them when a new President takes office. Additionally, this decision also seems to be a demonstration of the extent to which Trump’s foreign policy advisers, including Defense Secretary Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, have apparently managed to moderate many of the positions that Trump had taken on the campaign trail. As noted in the linked article, since taking office Trump has held off on moves such as formally calling China a currency manipulator, pulling out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Whether or not that moderation continues or not remains to be seen, but for the time being the fact that Trump hasn’t’really done anything crazy in the foreign policy arena is one of the few saving graces of the past 119 days. How long it lasts is another question.