WASHINGTON — A short time after President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday the U.S. exit from the Iran nuclear deal, former President Barack Obama — in a rare post-presidential statement — said the agreement “was never intended to solve all of our problems.”
That’s not a startling admission. It was never supposed to fix everything.
In 2015, when the U.S., Germany, Great Britain, China, France and Russia — banding together as the “P5+1” — signed the agreement, no one was selling it as solution to all of Iran’s bad behavior.
Terrorism, support of Hezbollah and Hamas, backing a proxy war in Syria — nothing in the deal prevented any action against Iran on those fronts.
And yes, Iran would get some of its lockboxed money back with lifting of sanctions Trump is now going to reimpose. And yes, the Obama administration candidly admitted back in 2015 that money might finance terrorism or developing other weapons or missiles.
The Iran pact — it’s called The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — was a realistic recognition of the vast difference between the damage done in conventional warfare versus nuclear obliteration.
It was a way to buy time, to add in years before the day would come that Iran would have the ability to make a nuclear weapon that could wipe Israel and its neighbors off the map. And maybe, in that time, another, better solution will surface.
Trump’s withdrawal from Obama’s signature legacy achievement was as easy as signing his name to a document. Now comes the harder part.
“What will President Trump do if Iran restarts its nuclear weapons program?” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked in a Senate floor speech.
We don’t know.
Trump’s declaration that the deal was a failure is not true. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was the CIA chief, told Congress Iran had not violated the terms.
The pact is highly technical, with a lot of language only a scientist can understand when it comes to detailing what Iran can and cannot do when it comes to nuclear energy and weapons development.
Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., the only physicist in Congress — he holds a Ph.D. — studied it in skeptical detail before coming out in support of the deal in 2015, at a time when Democrats were divided among themselves over what to do.
On Tuesday, Foster, in a statement that addressed the technical findings three years in said Trump’s “announcement shows his diplomatic incompetence and his technical ignorance of the scientific safeguards needed to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
“… Contrary to President Trump’s claims, the Iran Nuclear Deal has been a success. This deal gave us the ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear capability, so Iran no longer has the capability to produce a nuclear weapon without our knowledge.
“Iran has disconnected, removed, and placed in IAEA-monitored storage, two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, reduced their stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98 percent, removed all fissile material, centrifuges, and enrichment infrastructure from the underground facility at Fordow. The calandria — the core of Iran’s heavy water nuclear reactor — has been removed and filled with concrete so it is now permanently inoperable,” Foster said.
And then there is the timing. Trump’s team has to convince North Korea in upcoming talks that the U.S. can be trusted to keep its word. The U.S. bargaining hand is weaker now.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who has becoming increasingly involved in the Korea issue, visiting the region earlier this year, said in a statement that the U.S. now has “less leverage” with North Korea.
“While the Iran nuclear agreement was far from perfect, it has been successful in pushing back Iran’s timeline for nuclear weapons development, which was a key goal of the agreement,” Duckworth said.
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., who opposed the deal in 2015, said in a statement, “Iran continues to play the troublemaker in the region, foment unrest, and threaten its neighbors. Regardless of an agreement, we need to continue to apply pressure on Iran to change its behavior and to ensure that Iran does not threaten U.S. security and that of our allies.”
Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., took a harder line in his statement. “Since the Obama Administration struck this disastrous deal, Iran has spent billions supporting its terror proxies throughout the Middle East — undermining regional stability, harming U.S. allies and endangering U.S. troops — all while the Iranian people suffer grave poverty and repression under the regime.”
But that’s not nuclear war.