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Trump Grudgingly Recertifies the Nuclear Deal

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

Trump agreed to re-certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, but he did so very grudgingly:

President Trump agreed on Monday to certify again that Iran is complying with an international nuclear agreement that he has strongly criticized, but only after hours of arguing with his top national security advisers, briefly upending a planned announcement as a legal deadline loomed.

The danger here is that Trump’s instincts are to trash the deal and to deny that Iran is in compliance despite the fact that Tehran has been complying with the agreement from the start. Eventually, those instincts are likely to prevail over other concerns. That is not surprising given his repeated attacks on the JCPOA as the “worst” deal ever made. It is still alarming that the U.S. might renege on its obligations and potentially blow up the deal for no reason. The article continues:

The decision on Monday was the second time his administration certified Iran’s compliance, and aides said a frustrated Mr. Trump had told his security team that he would not keep doing so indefinitely [bold mine-DL].

The danger isn’t limited to Trump’s bad judgment. There are many dead-ender Iran hawks that never wanted the nuclear deal and are still desperate to sabotage it. Because the administration will have to certify that the deal is in the national security interests of the U.S. every 90 days, those saboteurs will have numerous opportunities to lobby Trump to change his mind. The Iran deal is succeeding, but hard-liners here are so determined to wreck it that they don’t care. Hostility to Iran is one of the few reliable constants in Trump’s foreign policy, and the administration is making clear that Trump wants to increase tensions with Iran on every other front:

Administration officials announced the certification on Monday evening while emphasizing that they intended to toughen enforcement of the deal, apply new sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism and other destabilizing activities, and negotiate with European partners to craft a broader strategy to increase pressure on Tehran. Aides said Mr. Trump had insisted on such actions before agreeing to the consensus recommendation of his national security team.

That means that most of the other possible benefits that the deal could have produced in the form of reduced regional tensions and diplomatic channels with Tehran will be thrown away for the sake of fruitless antagonism and confrontation. This is by far the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s foreign policy to date, but it is unfortunately the one where he will encounter the least resistance in Washington.

The report makes clear that the entire deal would be cast aside if Trump had his way. His advisers spent the last meeting trying to get Trump to agree, and he refused for almost all of it until the very end:

At an hourlong meeting last Wednesday, all of the president’s major security advisers recommended he preserve the Iran deal for now. Among those who spoke out were Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis; Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to an official who described internal discussions on the condition of anonymity. The official said Mr. Trump had spent 55 minutes of the meeting telling them he did not want to.

It could just be a matter of time before Trump scraps the deal.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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