September 5, 2017

How Trump Can Exit the Iran Deal

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton released his thoughts on dealing with Iran. He’s on the right track.

As Congress returns to Washington, DC, from August recess, members find President Donald Trump and his team dealing with a plethora of major domestic and international issues. The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the impending debt ceiling and government funding debates and the North Korean government continuing to conduct missile and nuclear testing are just a few of the items consuming much of the intellectual bandwidth of this administration.

While these topics are important, there is another significant subject on the periphery that needs to be re-examined soon. Just last week, former UN Ambassador John Bolton released his thoughts on dealing with Iran. He sheds light on a topic that seems to have fallen off the radar screens of many Americans.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, was announced in July 2015 and was hailed by then-Secretary of State John Kerry as a major diplomatic milestone that would keep Iran from further development of a nuclear weapon. Regrettably, the pact wasn’t so much about stopping Iran from creating weapons of mass destruction as it was about making Barack Obama and Co. look like they were doing something positive in the region. It was, to paraphrase Tom Clancy’s novel, the sum of all lies.

As part of the deal, the State Department must recertify that Iran is in compliance every 90 days and, in the most recent review back in July, the Trump administration grudgingly did so.

However, after the announcement was made, a Trump official was quoted as saying, “We do expect to be implementing new sanctions.” The following day the administration levied new restrictions against 18 entities emanating from Iran.

However, these measures announced by the State Department don’t go far enough to fix the problem and now — as North Korea tests our resolve — is the appropriate time for the Trump administration to take the next step and announce the United States’ withdrawal from this severely flawed compact.

It is known that Iran is operating more nuclear centrifuges than is allowed under the agreement and David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, stated in testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Security that Iran has violated its 130 tonnes heavy water limit twice since the agreement was signed.

More distressing than the aforementioned infractions is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inability to access military sites in Iran. According to a June 5, 2017, report written by Albright and Andrea Stickler, “The lack of such access undermines any statement that the IAEA is able to verify the JCPOA. Such access is necessary to verify limits on Iran’s centrifuge production, judge adherence to nuclear weaponization development bans in the JCPOA, and more broadly gain answers about past and on-going nuclear weapons work.”

Last week, an Iranian government spokesman insisted United Nations inspectors will never be able to visit military sites and that any such expectations are “a dream.”

We’ve argued from the beginning that the agreement isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed. Trump said as much when he stated during the first review in April that Iran “isn’t living up to the spirit” of the deal. Of course, if Trump implements this bold gambit he will once again be subjected to a withering set of ad hominum attacks, but the facts are in his favor.

Further sanctions won’t change the political calculus against the Iranian regime and, as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass stated recently, “All too often the economic, humanitarian, and foreign policy costs of U.S. sanctions far outweigh any benefits.” In other words, punitive measures against authoritarian governments rarely result in behavior modification.

Iran has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and the JCPOA facilitates its goals of developing nuclear weapons to ensure regional hegemony, all while undermining stability, security and prosperity in the Middle East and the world. It only makes sense for President Trump to make the tough decision and have the United States abrogate this unsound agreement and pursue other viable options. While this decision will unsettle some allies, it will in the long run enable the U.S. and its partners to make the world a safer place.

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