Just two years ago, no one thought a future American president could be so, shall we say, dangerously naive.
As a deal was coming together to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program in March 2015, then-Secretary of State John Kerry predicted that any future president would honor the agreement as long as Iran and the other five nations involved continued to support it.
“I’d like to see the next president, if all of those countries have said this is good and it’s working, turn around and just nullify in behalf of the United States,” Kerry said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Well, something close to that did happen on Friday. And for no good reason. Though military, diplomatic and intelligence experts all agree that Iran is complying with the deal, President Donald Trump announced he would not certify it, although he has done so twice previously. He said it is not in America’s national interests, though it is, and Iran is not holding up its end of the bargain, though it is.
That kicks the Iran pact over to Congress, which has 60 days in which it might tear it up, do nothing or do something in between. If Congress does nothing, Trump is threatening to pull out unilaterally.
Applying his usual bluster to complex negotiations, Trump has ripped the Iran pact as the worst deal ever. But he has no better idea for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran and a Mideast arms race. Instead, he naively believes he can dictate how other nations behave.
Trump’s announcement on Friday was part of a plan cooked up by his advisers to allow him to save face. He could proclaim his disapproval of the Iran deal, consistent with his uninformed rhetoric since before he took office, without actually killing the deal, for now. The White House wants Congress to set trigger points that could be used to justify reimposing sanctions. Trump also said the United States will more aggressively oppose Iran’s ballistic missile program and put sanctions on its Revolutionary Guard.
Trump has long raged against the Iran deal without demonstrating a shred of understanding it or an awareness of how difficult it was to achieve it. His irresponsibility creates a host of perils.
- Punting the issue to Congress creates the possibility that lawmakers will reinstate sanctions against Iran, which would unwind the entire agreement within months.
- Trump has now signaled to North Korea and other would-be nuclear powers that they can’t rely on America to stand by any deal our nation makes. Negotiating a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions just got far more difficult.
- America’s ties with its allies, already strained by Trump’s buffoonish attacks on them, have been further weakened. In the real world of diplomacy, we rely on our allies to help with a host of issues. America’s power is weakened if our allies don’t trust us to stand by deals we have signed off on. How does Trump expect to rein in Iran in other areas without our allies’ help?
- European companies that have started to do business with Iran, because the stabilizing agreement is in place, have suddenly been plunged into an atmosphere of uncertainty. If the companies now scale back their Iran involvement, undermining the benefits for Iran anticipated from the pact, Iranian hard-liners who opposed the deal all along will gain more credibility and power.
- On Friday, Trump expressed concerns about Iran’s activities in areas outside the deal, such as its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and its recent testing of a medium-range missile. But the point of the deal was to roll back Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, not solve every issue in that difficult part of the world. Demanding everything is an excellent way to get nothing.
Because of the deal, the United States and its partners can monitor Iran’s nuclear capability. Moreover, Iran has removed two-thirds of its centrifuges, cut stockpile of its low-enriched uranium by 98 percent and taken other steps to reverse its march toward nuclear weapons. These are achievements that should be preserved.
If the nuclear deal falls apart, Iran could stockpile more enriched uranium, which could be transformed into weapons-grade nuclear material, and take other steps making it possible to quickly resume its nuclear weapons program. The United States would find itself back where it started, with a choice of either allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons or starting yet another war.
Trump is recklessly inviting an international crisis. For the safety of our nation and the world, Congress must not play along.
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