Trump and the Nuclear Deal
But whether President Trump outright tears up the deal or simply orders his administration to take punitive actions against Iran, which could well cause Tehran to tear it up, the end result may be the same: goodbye to the nuclear deal. Trump’s insistence that he can “negotiate a better deal” notwithstanding, the probable result would be an Iran with no more restraints on its nuclear program and a United States with little international capital to spend on trying to rebuild the sanctions regime that led to the negotiations. In a broader sense, for the U.S. to take steps to scuttle the deal now may also tarnish America’s reputation as a reliable partner in international negotiations.
Trump’s rhetoric about seeking a better deal has created the impression that he won’t wreck the existing agreement, but the attempt to extract more concessions from Iran risks blowing up the accord because Tehran is not realistically going to give up any more than they already have. This was why our negotiators accepted the minimal compromises that they did. Iran wasn’t going to agree to abandoning their nuclear program all together, and any “renegotiation” premised on the goal of forcing total capitulation is doomed before it begins.
The parallel here is with the Agreed Framework with North Korea: the Bush administration believed they could coerce North Korea into accepting more demands, and instead caused the collapse of the old agreement, North Korea withdrew from the NPT, and soon thereafter they began conducting nuclear tests. The drive in Congress to impose more sanctions on Iran in the misguided belief that this will force Iran to yield even more on the nuclear issue seems certain to blow up in Washington’s face. But then the goal of most deal opponents has never been to secure a “better deal” at all, but simply to sabotage a diplomatic resolution of the issue in order to keep it as a pretext for conflict.
The danger in all this is that Trump clearly doesn’t understand what the nuclear deal does, and he doesn’t grasp that it is doing exactly what it is intended to do. His talking-point complaint about the money that the U.S. “gave” Iran as part of the deal is a case in point: he derides the deal for sanctions relief that always had to be forthcoming in the event that the nuclear issue was resolved, and he pretends that the money Iran is gaining access to wasn’t theirs all along. He looks at a successful negotiation and a big win for the U.S. and its allies and sees nothing but disaster. That tells me that he doesn’t know what a good deal looks like. The fact that he has also pledged on at least one occasion to “dismantle” the agreement and told the AIPAC conference this would be his “number-one priority” tells us that we should assume the worst.