President Trump said he’s made a decision on the future of the Iranian nuclear deal, which came as a surprise to his own Secretary of State. He’s apparently waiting to unveil it publicly in an early morning tweet in about two weeks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressing him hard to keep his campaign pledge to rip up what Trump has called “the worst deal ever.”
Always one with a quotable phrase, Netanyahu has called on Trump to “fix it or nix it.” By “fix” he has in mind adding some poison pills that will make it unacceptable to Iran. The Iranians have said they’re not interested in renegotiating the deal, and the other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — aren’t either.
In mid-September the Trump administration certified that Iran is meeting its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, as it’s known, and by October 15 the president has to certify to Congress that Iran is in compliance. If not, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions waived under the agreement or do nothing. The September deadline is set by international agreement, but October’s was set by the Congress and is not binding on Iran or the other signatories:
Israeli and American intelligence and security officials say they may not like the agreement but it is better than none at all. The other nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which inspects Iranian facilities, say Iran is meeting its commitments.
The Pentagon’s top general says Trump is wrong, Iran is not violating the nuclear deal. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations,” adding that the pact “has delayed Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”
Look for Trump to pass the buck to the Congress next month. He won’t abrogate the agreement himself, as he had promised AIPAC; instead he’ll say Iran is in violation of at least the “spirit” of the deal and let lawmakers decide. Either way, Trump sees an escape from responsibility. Congress can re-impose sanctions and Iran might walk away from the agreement, or it can just dither and leave the pact intact.
Trump will then be able to say he wanted to kill the deal but Congress wouldn’t let him. It’s a lie, but many will swallow it.
The big risk for Trump is further isolation from world leaders who already have little respect for him. No other nation will follow his politically motivated course on Iran.
If the pact is killed, it could open the door for Iran to make a sprint to the bomb, and undermine any possible peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis by making it clear than any deal would be subject to the whims of this most erratic president.
Instead of obsessing on destroying Obama’s legacy, Trump and Netanyahu should focus on Iran’s progress in building a Shiite corridor to the Mediterranean. Having helped Bashar Assad retain power in Syria, Iran and its Hezbollah proxies are spreading their influence in Israel’s backyard. Iran’s destabilizing role throughout the region is a particular threat to Israel and to America’s other friends in the region.
So would be an expanded Iranian presence with bases and factories for missiles and other weapons. That is a clear and present danger to Israel, and it is something Trump and Netanyahu should focus on instead of obsessing about demeaning a past president they despise.