Trump continues to demand impossible “fixes” to the nuclear deal with Iran and threatens to withdraw from the agreement if his ultimatum isn’t met:
President Donald Trump gave the Iran nuclear deal a final reprieve on Friday but warned European allies and Congress they had to work with him to fix ”the disastrous flaws” in the pact or face a U.S. exit.
Trump said he would waive sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the international deal for the last time unless his conditions were met.
It has been clear for years that Trump wants to renege on the nuclear deal, but it’s also clear that he wants to be able to blame someone else when he does so. The problem for Trump is that his bad faith on this issue is so obvious to everyone that his attempt to shift the blame for his poor policy choices won’t work. Our European allies won’t yield to his ridiculous ultimatum because they have no reason to do so. If the U.S. opts to break the commitments it made under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it will do so without obtaining their assistance in providing political cover. The EU and the governments of Britain, France, and Germany have all been very clear that they see no need to revisit or revise the agreement, and there is no interest in renegotiating something that was already successfully conclude the first time. Our allies oppose U.S. efforts that put the agreement in jeopardy, and they are not going to participate in a transparent attempt to blow up the deal.
The president has telegraphed his desire to scrap the deal so often that no one can honestly believe that he wants the deal “fixed,” and the content of his demands confirms as much. The “flaws” that Trump wants to “fix” aren’t really flaws at all, or they are compromises that had to be made in order to secure the important concessions that Iran made. For example, restrictions that expire after an agreed period of time are an unavoidable part of any nonproliferation agreement. These are some of the provisions that have made a successful nuclear deal possible in the first place. None of the other parties to the JCPOA views these things as a problem that needs to be solved. Trump insists that the deal’s limitations and the additional restrictions he wants be maintained in perpetuity, but that is a non-starter with Iran as well as being entirely unnecessary.
Paul Pillar explains why:
The statement fails to mention how most of the important provisions of the accord, including the intrusive inspections and Iran’s basic commitment never to acquire a nuclear weapon, are permanent. Nor does it mention how expiration dates are standard fare in arms control agreements, including some of the big ones the United States has reached with the USSR or Russia. But this very subject of sunset clauses underscores the shambolic nature of the demands that Trump’s statement lays out. Trump explicitly threatens to pull out of the agreement if his demands are not met and his “components” don’t materialize. So what would happen if the component about ending sunset clauses doesn’t materialize, the United States pulls out of the agreement, and Trump’s dream of killing the JCPOA altogether is met? Why, then Iran would be free to spin as many centrifuges and enrich and stockpile as much fissile material as it wants right away, rather than having to wait ten or twelve years or to some other time limit. So much for the supposed importance of limits that never expire.
Iran hawks have been trying to sabotage the nuclear deal even before it was concluded, and once a deal was reached they have looked for any excuse they could find to scrap it. The difficulty for opponents of the deal is that it has worked exactly as intended and has been entirely successful, and so they have had to keep moving the goalposts to make it seem as if the deal has fallen short. Of course, most opponents of the JCPOA are opposed to any deal with Iran that could realistically be made because they loathe the very idea of diplomatic engagement with Tehran, so the details have always been and will always be beside the point for them. Trump has been a willing accomplice in this because he has been determined to do what he can to erase Obama’s legacy and because hostility to Iran seems to be one of the only consistent things in his foreign policy. Lacking the faintest understanding of any of the relevant issues, Trump has echoed the hawks’ pathetic complaints about the agreement.
Pillar sums up Trump’s predicament very well:
Trump’s effort is impeded by the fact that the JCPOA is working. It continues, as confirmed by international inspectors, to fulfill its purpose of blocking all possible paths to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran continues to comply with its obligations under the agreement. As such, the JCPOA continues to serve the interests of the United States and of international security and the cause of nuclear nonproliferation. These evidently are not interests that motivate Trump, but he cannot afford to be honest about his actual motivations. The fact that the agreement is working prevents him from making any case for withdrawing from the agreement directly and explicitly.
Trump wants to trash U.S. international commitments and break faith with some of our most important allies on a major issue, but he doesn’t want to be blamed for the costs that will impose on the U.S. If international and domestic pressure don’t stop Trump from following through on his threat, it is important to remember that he and his allies are the only ones to blame for the consequences.