America gets it wrong on Iran — again

“Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal continues a rich tradition of U.S. fecklessness.”

From The New Republican:

Something in the U.S. psyche keeps getting it wrong about Iran, causing us to do a series of short-sighted and even self-damaging things. There was the cataclysmic decision in 1953 during the Eisenhower administration to join Great Britain (then headed by Winston Churchill), on behalf of a major British oil company, to overthrow the democratically elected leftist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was threatening to nationalize Iran’s oil facilities, and to restore the royal family to power by putting Mohammed Reza Pahlavi on the throne. Under Nixon and Kissinger the U.S. armed the Shah to the teeth, instruments the repressive leader used for brutally suppressing dissent among his people. […]

But nothing since the overthrow of Iran’s elected leader in 1953 rivaled in fecklessness and self-damage the decision taken this past week by Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal reached in 2015 between Iran and a group of nations including China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the P5 +1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany). The agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached after nearly ten years of negotiations (begun during the W. Bush administration and continued through much of Barack Obama’s presidency), was designed to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program would be used for peaceful purposes only.

Senate Republicans unanimously opposed the deal when it came before their chamber in September 2015, but it survived because Obama had deemed it an executive agreement rather than a treaty, so that it wouldn’t need the highly unlikely support of two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes. (Normally, an executive agreement doesn’t come before the Congress at all, but Republicans and a few Democrats insisted that it be subjected to a vote.) The more conservative of the pro-Israel lobbies, AIPAC, was defeated after spending millions on the fight. The deal was vehemently opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who astonishingly addressed the Congress to attack a plan backed by the administration (Republicans invited him), though some retired Israeli military and intelligence officials supported it as in their country’s security interest. Like Netanyahu, some U.S. opponents of the deal, particularly on the far right, hinted that Iran’s nuclear facilities should be destroyed militarily, a feat that several military officials deemed too hard, since some facilities were buried deep underground.

A major criticism of the Iran nuclear deal has revolved around what it doesn’t cover: Iran’s development of missiles; its support of terrorism in the Middle East; its poor record on human rights; and its sale of arms to allies in the area. But it was never in the cards that all these matters could be covered in one agreement. In an interview, Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political affairs, who led the negotiating team working with then–Secretary of State John Kerry, said that the agreement was limited to nuclear weapons for various reasons: the U.N. Security Council resolution mandating negotiations with Iran by the P5+1 was focused solely on Iran’s nuclear program, since that was of the greatest international concern; to have included other issues, such as the development of missiles, would involve trade-offs with the provisions to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons, thereby weakening them; Iran wasn’t willing to include the other issues in the negotiations; and the final deal is 110 pages of heavily technical language. To include provisions on the other subjects as well would have been far too unwieldy and required years more of negotiations.

Iran’s nuclear program presented a real threat: It had secretly developed enrichment capabilities before the turn of the century, and by around 2010 it had a significant nuclear program underway. European countries, more vulnerable to a nuclear-armed Iran, began negotiations with Iran in 2003, before the U.N. resolution and before the U.S. was very interested.

Another argument that U.S. opponents of the deal have thrown at it is that it doesn’t permit inspections of Iran’s military facilities—a charge that’s untrue. A process was established to allow such inspections within 24 days, though of course opponents then argued that gives Iran time to hide traces of its nuclear activities. However, the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) has said that Iran wouldn’t be able to remove traces of fissile material in 24 days; that it hangs around for years. Finally, a major issue was how long various restrictions contained in the agreement would last. Some are due to start expiring 10 years from the treaty’s signing. The deal included a stiff monitoring capability and thus far Iran has been assessed to be observing the terms of the agreement.

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and his first year in office, Trump railed against the Iran deal, which may have something to do with the fact that it was widely considered Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievement. (Passing Obamacare was of course his prime domestic accomplishment, and Trump failed to get it repealed.) Trump’s rhetoric about the nuclear deal was extreme; he called it an “embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” The president didn’t offer specific complaints.

He didn’t seem to know much about it. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an expert on the deal, has his own explanation for Trump’s point-blank opposition to it: “It’s very difficult for others to understand that he has a deep insecurity for anything achieved by Barack Obama,” Kaine told me. Trump has done this kind of thing before, pulling the U.S. out of the Obama-supported Paris climate accord, the U.N. compact on global migration, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As for Trump and the Iran agreement, Kaine said, “I don’t think he understands it; I think he pulled out because he’s insecure about Obama’s legacy.” Shortly after Trump fired Rex Tillerson from his job as secretary of state, Trump commented, “When you look at the Iran deal, I thought it was terrible. He thought it was okay.” Defense Secretary James Mattis openly favored the U.S. remaining in the deal, and Mattis is one of the few people working for Trump who hasn’t earned his scorn, but other forces were pulling at Trump harder.

In Kaine’s opinion, but not his alone, the U.S.’s pulling out of the Iran deal is “dangerous.” For one thing, he said, “We’ve shifted the focus from the question of Iran’s behavior to America’s good faith.” For Russia, for the U.S. to show bad faith is “a positive,” Kaine said. We can look for more economic as well as military cooperation between Russia and Iran, and more Iranian cooperation with China. “We’re weakening our alliances and giving our adversaries more reasons to band together, and this will lead to more instability in the Middle East,” he said. He pointed to the recent rocket exchanges between Israeli and Iranian forces. Finally, with Iran being “a complicated political environment”– a country with constant tensions between its moderates and radicals –if there was a belief that the U.S. was going to play a more even-handed role in the Middle East, rather than coming down firmly on the side of Israel and Saudi Arabia, Kaine suggested, “some elements in the Iranian government would say, ‘Good, we can work with that,’ and they might wage fewer proxy wars.” He was referring to the Sunni (plus Israel)–Shia (Iran) wars in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. But if we throw in our hand with the Saudi-Israel factor, “there will continue to be Iran/Saudi proxy wars.”

Kaine also finds it deeply regrettable that Trump’s pulling out of the deal could be seen as releasing Iran from the pledge contained in its first paragraph: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons,” a pledge that Kaine maintains is legally enforceable. “He’s relieved them of that obligation,” Kaine says.

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Juan Williams: Trump’s dangerous lies on Iran

President Trump’s “decision to end the Iran deal endangers the national security of the United States and opens a box of evil spirits in the Middle East.”

From The Hill:

The president’s partisan attacks on the Democrats who negotiated the deal — President Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry — have left people with the sense that this is nothing more than one more political fight among many.

Trump has turned national security into just another political act in the Trump reality show.

No matter how provably false Trump’s claims about the Iran deal, he has succeeded in producing a fog of public confusion and uncertainty about the truth — more of that sincere ignorance.

For the record, Iran never violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). And there is no evidence the deal is “defective at its core,” as Trump likes to say.

Trump’s own State Department has repeatedly certified — as recently as last month — that Iran was living up to its end of the deal. In April, Defense Secretary James Mattis described the pact’s verification provisions as “pretty robust.”

And the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has issued quarterly reports certifying that Iran is in compliance.

But the truth has not stopped Trump.

He keeps calling the deal “disastrous” and “a great embarrassment,” and telling Americans that it allowed Iran to eventually “reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.”

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave Trump a four Pinocchio rating — a “whopper” of a lie — for the claim that the deal frees Iran in seven years to “create nuclear weapons.”

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Trump’s Iran decision has turned allies into adversaries

“Maybe they should bestow a Nobel Anti-Peace Prize for doing the most needless damage to world peace. Trump would be a shoo-in.”

From Huffpost:

Don’t place any bets on that Nobel Peace Prize for Donald Trump. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Trump may stage the illusion of progress toward a denuclearized Korea. But the details of that goal will take long and arduous diplomacy.

One risk is that Kim is setting a trap for Trump in which both leaders can claim success, but as negotiations drag on, North Korea keeps working on its arsenal and its ballistic missile capabilities. Trump, showman and cynic, may go along so he can claim a diplomatic breakthrough. Another risk is that Trump will realize he is being played, and will one-up Kim by walking out of the talks, thus adding to regional tensions. The one thing that will not happen is the immediate conclusion of a final and verifiable deal.

But the potential for a bogus deal with North Korea is only one of several arenas in which Trump is setting back world peace. Even more serious is the fallout from Trump’s disavowal of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran.

Scrapping that deal could provoke new tensions in the region, including a strengthening of Iranian hard-liners and an unleashing of a bellicose Israel. And the most damaging result of all may be that Trump’s Iran policy risks fracturing what’s left of the American alliance with Europe.

The Trump administration has taken the position that any nation that does business with Iran will be in violation of the U.S. commercial boycott and will face stringent sanctions. That means the EU, which supports the deal and did not want Trump to kill it.

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Trump team sends mixed signals to Europe

“The administration said it expects U.S. allies will fall in line with its Iran policy but doesn’t exclude the possibility of punishing them.”

From Politico:

National security adviser John Bolton on Sunday carefully doubled down on President Donald Trump’s threat that European countries could be sanctioned by the United States if they continue to be involved with Iran.

“It’s possible,” Bolton said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Bolton’s statement came as he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to amplify the reasons behind the Trump administration’s deal to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement and explain how it will work, given that the international community, other than Israel and some Arab nations, has not jumped on board with the president. Both Bolton and Pompeo suggested they believed the major European powers might eventually see the light.

Trump on Tuesday said he was going to reimpose sanctions on Iran — dealing a blow to what he called the “decaying and rotten” Iran nuclear deal. Those sanctions could involve secondary sanctions, which would penalize countries whose companies continue to trade with Iran. “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States,” the president said.

After Trump’s announcement, the leaders of France, Germany and the United Kingdom said in a joint statement that they remain committed to preserving the Iran deal and urged the U.S. “to ensure that the structures of the [deal] can remain intact, and to avoid taking action which obstructs its full implementation by all other parties to the deal.” China and Russia also have affirmed support for the deal, which was designed to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons.

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Trump just manufactured a national security crisis for no reason

“His decision to pull the United States out of the Iran deal could place the lives of Americans — and people around the world – in danger. And all for nothing.”

From The Guardian:

Imagine the president of the United States of America sitting in the White House Situation Room with his top national security advisers and deciding that there are not enough threats to US national security. There are not enough wars and humanitarian crises around the world. The United States is bored. Imagine the president deciding to manufacture a new national security crisis that will directly threaten America, its allies and the world.

Sounds like the work of fiction, right? Unfortunately, not. President Trump announced his decision for the United States to violate the diplomatic agreement that is currently preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — and with that decision Trump produced a new, unnecessary crisis.

Let’s quickly go over how we got here. Just a few years ago, Iran was working to get a nuclear weapon, and making progress. After years of a sustained, highly coordinated campaign of sanctions backed by most of the world, the economic pressure forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, China and Russia got Iran to agree to stop its nuclear weapons program and to never attempt to get a nuclear weapon.

In the almost three years since the deal was signed, not only has the IAEA confirmed that Iran is complying with the deal, but the Trump administration — the very administration now violating the deal — has repeatedly verified Iran’s compliance. The US secretary of defense, James Mattis, said the verification mechanisms in the deal are “robust”, and the head of the IAEA called them the “world’s most robust”.

But forget the facts and the details. Trump wants out. So now what?

The most consequential result could be an eventual war with Iran that engulfs the Middle East. Iran could kick out inspectors and develop a nuclear weapon. Iran could ramp up its support for terrorism and proxy wars. Arab states like Saudi Arabia could try to get their own nuclear weapons and respond to Iranian escalation with more escalation in Syria and Yemen. And all of that could lead to more conflict in the Middle East, including potential wars with Israel and the United States.

That should be worrying enough. But there’s more.

At a time when Trump has already created a rift with allies in Europe over climate change, trade and more, Trump’s violation of the Iran deal doesn’t just put the screws to Iran — it puts the screws to Europe as it faces new potential US sanctions. These are the very allies that the United States needs not only for all manner of global challenges, but also for the new deal with Iran that Trump supposedly wants to pursue. Treating one’s allies as adversaries is not a recipe for success. And sure enough, very quickly after Trump’s announcement, the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, and France jointly announced their “continuing commitment” to the deal.

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Trump shredding Obama’s failed deal is just the beginning of winning in Iran

“No one can defeat America, but America can endanger and undermine herself — and that is exactly what President Obama and his secretary of State, John Kerry, did with the JCPOA.”

From The Hill:

The fate of Obama’s JCPOA Iran deal was clear when Donald J. Trump became America’s 45th president.

The new commander-in-chief inherently knew that President Obama’s so-called “legacy” deal actually facilitated our enemies in Tehran, as it released more than $140 billion to the mullahs, had no effect on Iranian ballistic missile capability, created a risible inspection regime, and included a sunset clause which meant that nuclear weapons acquisition by Iran was simply delayed, not in fact prevented.

And after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave his commanding performance on Iran’s secret AMAD Program that had only one goal — obtaining nuclear bombs for Iran — today’s decision was a forgone conclusion.

But what now?

The original Iran deal was predicated on a very simple — and unbelievably naive — concept hatched during the Obama years: that the Sunnis of the Middle East, including jihadist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State, were in ascendance and that empowering the Shia regime in Iran would provide a counterbalance.

This, despite the fact that the mullahs in Tehran have the same goal as Sunni extremists: to take over the region and attack American interests globally.

The issue is not which of our enemies to empower, but how to ensure that none of them achieve their goals.

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Trump Iran sanctions just gave Saudi Arabia and Russia more clout in the oil market, so watch for higher prices

No wonder Saudi Arabia heaped praise on President Trump following his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. In the words of John Kilduff, oil analyst with Again Capital: “Once again the bounty of higher prices will be bestowed on Saudi Arabia at the expense of Iran,”

From CNBC:

Saudi Arabia said it will help meet world oil demand if President Donald Trump’s Iran sanctions create shortfalls, but analysts say it will do so only in conjunction with Russia, and the world may have to get used to higher prices as a result.

Brent, the international benchmark crude, was up 3 percent Wednesday, on Trump’s sanctions announcement and as new weekly government data showed U.S. oil inventories dropping amid extremely strong demand for gasoline from American drivers. The Iran situation could mean that oil moves closer to $80 per barrel than the $60s to $70s expected by analysts this year.

The timing of the announcement of sanctions coincides with steadily rising oil prices that are now at their highest level since November 2014. On Tuesday Trump announced the withdrawal of the U.S. from an agreement to waive sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran ending its nuclear program.

Trump said the sanctions will be reimposed because Iran continues to work on a bomb, based on evidence provided by Israel, and it backs terrorist groups around the Middle East.

The higher oil price is a plus for Saudi Arabia, which analysts say wants to see a steadier market at a higher price to pave the way for its initial public offering of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco. Brent futures were just above $77 per barrel Tuesday, and West Texas Intermediate futures settled at $71.14 per barrel.

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Trump was right to kill the disastrous Iran deal

“An important step toward a needed policy reset with one of America’s most malicious enemies.”

From Washington Examiner:

President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear agreement negotiated by former President Barack Obama and reimpose sanctions was an important step toward a needed policy reset with one of America’s most malicious enemies.

In taking this action, Trump recognized that the 2015 nuclear deal imposed without the approval of Congress had a fatal flaw. In exchange for Iran making temporary concessions on its nuclear program, the U.S. and the world’s great powers agreed to provide tens of billions of dollars of economic relief and to turn a blind eye to the regime’s other malignant activities.

The existence of the nuclear deal has not moderated Iran, only made it a more aggressive destabilizing force in the Middle East. Since the deal was struck, it has built up its military, imprisoned Americans, tested ballistic missiles, continued to finance terrorism, and increased its interference in Syria. In Yemen, Iran violated an arms embargo and is believed to have allowed Houthi rebels to obtain missiles, one of which was fired into Saudi Arabia.

Ever since a desperate Obama started negotiating the deal, Washington has been held hostage by fear that Iran could withdraw, thus limiting the options of policymakers. So a deal that was supposed to constrain Iran instead hobbled America.

We’re still learning all of the ways that Obama myopically subverted our national interests in first seeking and then propping up his deal. Last year, a detailed report found that “in its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States.”

Despite all of these concessions, the deal would only limit Iranian nuclear activities for a little over a decade. Even if Iran were to follow every letter of the deal, it could use the next decade to build its conventional military and develop ballistic missiles and then ramp back up its nuclear program, giving it both nuclear material and the means to deliver it. The bombshell Israeli intelligence find announced last week demonstrated that Iran not only lied to the international community about its past nuclear weapons development, but also kept all its research, presumably, for use at a later date. The deal relies on self-inspection of Iranian military sites such as Parchin, despite evidence of past nuclear activity.

In his speech, one of the best made about and to Iran by an American president, Trump put the world on notice that the U.S. would no longer be hamstrung by a bad deal. “America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail,” Trump declared.

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Trump has announced that the US is leaving the Iran nuclear deal

“US sanctions against Iran will now begin to be put back into place over the next several months.”

From BuzzFeed:

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, allowing sanctions against the country to resume.

“It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” Trump said, standing in the White House. “The Iran deal is defective at its core.”

Trump said that in getting rid of the deal, he was also “instituting the highest level of economic sanction” against Iran’s nuclear program in the hopes of drawing Tehran back to the negotiating table.

Under the memorandum that Trump signed following his speech, the US Treasury Department will begin to reinstate sanctions that were waived under the Iran deal, to be completed no later than 180 days from Tuesday. Businesses will have to begin winding down their dealings that were put in place under the terms of the deal and no new contracts will be allowed to come into effect.

Sanctions that levy penalties against banks and other financial institutions in countries that import oil from Iran were due to snap back into place at the end of the week absent a waiver from Trump. Others, targeting sectors of the Iranian economy including shipping and aviation, were due to expire in July.

“Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal,” Trump continued. “They refuse. And that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people. When they do, I am ready, willing, and able.”

Trump has consistently scorned the deal since the campaign trail; as president, he called it one of the worst agreements the US has ever negotiated. He has resisted pressure from international allies, including French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who made extraordinary appeals to him to stay in the deal by appearing on Fox News over the past several days.

Trump and his allies have insisted the deal is too generous to Iran, naively allows Tehran to run out the clock on the deal’s expiration date, and ignores its missile program and military adventures in Syria and elsewhere in the region. The Obama administration finalized negotiations on the deal in 2015, alongside the UK, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union, and it was presented as a major foreign policy win. Under its terms, the US and others would lift some unilateral and multilateral sanctions targeting Iran and unfreeze seized Iranian assets worth $100 billion. In return, Iran would halt almost all nuclear enrichment, eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium, drastically reduce the number of centrifuges it would be able to operate, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency into its facilities.

Since the deal was agreed upon, the IAEA has verified Iran’s compliance 11 times, most recently in February.

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The Iran deal, explained in 9 graphics

“The Iran nuclear deal is working as intended. Trump is on the brink of pulling out of it anyway.”

From Vox:

If President Donald Trump withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, the world could change very quickly.

The nuclear agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) puts tight restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the relaxation of some punishing international sanctions on Iran. It was the Obama administration’s biggest foreign policy achievement. Now Trump has the chance to wound the deal, and possibly kill it altogether.

Trump and other critics argue that Iran can’t be trusted and that the agreement limits — but doesn’t end — Iran’s nuclear program. The deal’s many supporters, which include all of Washington’s closest European allies, say Iran has kept up its part of the deal and that pulling out of it would do more harm than good. […]

The case against the Iran deal has little to do with the deal’s technical details. President Trump has never disputed any of these points; nor has there been any independent evidence of Iran failing to comply with its obligations.

No, the argument instead is that the deal isn’t enough to justify relaxing sanctions. Critics point to Iran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, for example, and note that some of the deal’s terms expire after a decade.

So when President Trump says the Iran deal is a bad deal, he’s not saying it’s not working as intended: Everyone agrees that Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon has been limited by the deal, at least for the time being. The question is whether that’s enough and, if not, what could be done to improve it.

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