Ever since President Trump was inaugurated, a low key guerrilla war has been waged on the part of the State Department, some parts of Defense, some National Security Council staffers, and Obama alumni to keep the United States in the nuclear deal with Iran that Barack Obama signed onto. (Full disclosure, I think the Iran deal is an unparalleled national disgrace and have since the shape of the deal became clear.) Trump has made no secret of his opposition to the deal both on the campaign trail and in office but was persuaded to certify the deal repeatedly. In January, the tenor changed:
President Trump on Friday kept alive the Iran nuclear deal he detests by waiving sanctions for the third time, but he said he will not grant another reprieve unless the agreement is amended to permanently block a potential pathway for Iran to build nuclear weapons.
In conjunction with the waivers, the Treasury Department placed sanctions on 14 people and entities for alleged offenses unrelated to Iran’s nuclear industry. The new measures concern human rights abuses and censorship in Iran and the arming of groups throughout the region.
Trump’s decision avoided placing the United States in violation of the commitments it made in the landmark 2015 deal. But he affirmed his willingness to withdraw from it in a few months unless changes are made.
“Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said in a statement. “Instead, I have outlined two possible paths forward: either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”
Since that time, an informal coalition tried to preserve the deal by giving the illusion of improving it while, in fact, doing squat:
Over the past several months, Corker has worked closely with national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others to keep the president from fulfilling his campaign promise to rip up the Iran deal. But with Tillerson on his way out of the administration and McMaster possibly next on the chopping block, there are few left in the president’s circle of trusted national security advisers who defend upholding the deal.
The recent nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo as Tillerson’s replacement further suggests that hard-line critics of the pact are about to hold more sway in the administration.
This was obviously written before John Bolton became national security adviser.
That brings us to this week.
First, it seems as though that Iran is either resigned to the deal ending and is putting on their best act of hairy, odoriferous defiance. Their foreign minister was on CBS on Sunday (I’m SURE there is no coincidence that the CBS News chief David Rhodes is the brother of the Iran deal’s own Willy Loman, Ben Rhodes) trying to be an Iranian Insult Comic Dog. And threats about all the dire consequences to the United States (Iran has a GDP that puts in between Washington and Maryland if it were a state) if the US withdraws.
Second, the occasion of Trump’s first state dinner is the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. One of the main purposes of their visit is to try to convince Trump that they have fixed the agreement.
The French and German leaders support the 2015 nuclear accord and want the U.S. to remain a part of it. But Mr. Trump has vowed to withdraw unless European allies agree to address three main administration concerns: expiring limits on Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran’s ballistic-missile program and the scope of international nuclear inspections.
Officials involved in the discussions about addressing the Trump administration’s concerns said they have mostly completed talks at the staff level and that it is up to Mr. Trump to make a political decision about the path ahead. The State Department’s policy-planning director, Brian Hook, who led the U.S.-European talks for the U.S. under Mr. Tillerson, has remained in that role under a renewed administration mandate, a person familiar with the talks said.
“Good progress and almost there,” one senior European diplomat familiar with the discussions said this week. “Now, nobody knows what POTUS will decide in the end.”
Read this thread for how the negotiators have basically acted as Iranian proxies and have made preserving the deal take priority over the administration’s objections:
The fake #IranDeal fix we've feared is heading to @realDonaldTrump for approval. Appeasement of #Iran on missiles (regime announced it would "cap" at 2,000km), sacrificing key allies like Israel. Fake sunset language. How could Trump ever call it a fix? https://t.co/LYt97XhkuK
— Richard Goldberg (@rich_goldberg) April 22, 2018
The joint press conference with Presidents Trump and Macron just wound down and I think its safe to say that unless a lot more is being offered up by Iran than we know about, the Iran deal is probably dead. This is from the pool report by Peter Baker of the New York Times (thoughtfully provided by my colleague, Sarah Lee. Give her archive a look.)
Asked whether he would be willing to stay in the Iran deal, POTUS said: “We’ll see. People know my views on the Iran deal. It was a terrible deal. It should have never ever been made.”
“It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It should never have been made. But we will be talking about it.”
President Macron spoke in French and then translated himself: “The Iran deal is an important issue but we have to take a far broader picture which is security in the overall region.” He added: “What we want to do is to contain Iran an its presence in the region.”
POTUS then added: “It just seems that no matter where you go especially in the Middle East, Iran is behind it, wherever there’s trouble, Yemen, Syria, no matter where you have it, Iran is behind it. And now unfortunately, Russia is getting more and more involved. But Iran seems behind everything where there’s a problem. And we just have to take a look.”
He added: “We’re not going to allow certain things to happen that are happening. The Iran deal is a disaster. The’re testing missiles. What’s that all about?”
“What kind of a deal is it when you don’t talk about Yemen and you don’t talk about all the other problems that we have with respect to Iran?”
He noted that Secretary Kerry said he didn’ t want to deal with issues beyond the nuclear program as part of the deal because it would be too complicated.
“He didn’t want to discuss it because it was too complicated. That’s not the way to do it because it’s too complicated. So we made this terrible deal.”
Asked about the prospect that Iran might restart its nuclear program if the deal is ripped up, POTUS said: “It won’t be so easy for them to restart it. They’re not going to be restarting anything. If they restart it, they’re going to have big problems, bigger than they ever had before. And you can mark it down. If they restart their nuclear program they will have bigger problems than they ever had before.”
Trump: "Iran seems to be behind everything where there is a problem." pic.twitter.com/9VYSu8Y988
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) April 24, 2018
JUST IN: “We’ll see," President Trump responds when asked while seated next to French President Macron if he’ll be staying in the Iran nuclear deal: "The Iran Deal is a terrible deal." pic.twitter.com/za0b8Aqlhc
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 24, 2018
The media shouldn't understate this. Trump just lost his temper and threatened war with Iran. pic.twitter.com/iYJVJFTOdH
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) April 24, 2018
We need to confront Iranian expansionism and roll it back. We can’t do that if we are encumbered by some alleged agreement with Tehran and with our major allies, particularly Germany, whoring themselves after Iranian petro-dollars. Pulling from the agreement and reimposing sanctions will cut off Western assistance to Iran. Iran’s economy is collapsing. Capital flight is at epidemic levels. Social and political unrest is the new normal.
The sooner this is started the sooner it will be finished.
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