Nikki Haley unwittingly made a very revealing comment about the Trump administration’s hostility to the nuclear deal with Iran:
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Tuesday that she “never thought the Iran deal could be fixed.” Even so, the Trump administration spent months consulting with other countries on ways to improve the agreement, before the United States withdrew from it entirely in May and reimposed sanctions on Iran. “You could change it to be a better deal, but you couldn’t change it to be a good deal,” [bold mine-DL] she said during an appearance at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.
Haley’s statement is an unusually blunt admission from a Trump administration official that their farcical act of seeking to “fix” the JCPOA was never serious. The ambassador is acknowledging that there is no deal that would ever be good enough for hard-line opponents of the nuclear deal like her. It is a useful reminder that the Trump administration is not interested in securing a new agreement, but instead wants to make demands Iran will never accept as a pretext for conflict and pursuing regime change. The new head of the Iran Action Group, Brian Hook, repeated those demands at the same event earlier today.
The ambassador went on to say this:
“I look at [Iran] as the next North Korea. If you continue to fund this, and they continue to do these bad acts, and no one holds them accountable, we one day are going to be talking about Iran the same way we talk about North Korea.”
Haley’s delusion is that the nuclear deal makes it more likely that Iran would become a nuclear-armed state like North Korea when the truth is the exact opposite. North Korea acquired nuclear weapons after the Bush administration tried and failed to use increased pressure to extract more concessions from them. The Bush administration blew up the Agreed Framework and had nothing to replace it with, and in short order North Korea exited the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and tested its first nuclear weapon. Iran has no reason to do any of those things as long as the nuclear deal remains in force and so long as Iran obtains the sanctions relief it was promised.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration reneged on the functioning, successful JCPOA in a similar misguided effort to pressure Iran into making much bigger concessions on the nuclear issue and many other unrelated issues, and it is reimposing sanctions on Iran despite continued Iranian compliance with the agreement. They are repeating the same mistakes that the Bush administration made, but it is even worse this time because we know that pressure campaigns backfire and produce the very results we don’t want. The JCPOA is a much stronger, better nonproliferation agreement, so throwing it away out of pique and ideology is even more destructive than wrecking the Agreed Framework. If Iran someday becomes the “next North Korea,” it will be because the Trump administration undermined the nuclear deal and gave them every incentive to seek nuclear weapons.