Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Trump to "decertify" on Iran nuclear deal

YOU ARE IN: Home Page

Update from AIJAC


October 17, 2017

Update 10/17 #03

Last Friday, US President Donald Trump made a speech announcing his Administration's new Iran policy - which includes not only new sanctions on the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but also, most controversially,  a refusal to again certify to the US Congress that the nuclear deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA) is in the US national interest and "“appropriate and proportionate” to the measures Iran has taken on its nuclear program. (Note that this does not necessarily mean the US will pull out of the agreement - certification is a US legislative requirement, not part of the deal. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified some of this in an interview. More on what it means is here. ) 

This Update provides a variety of expert opinion on the logic behind Trump's newly announced policy -  especially the decertification - and where it might lead.

The first commentator is Washington Institute for Near East Policy head Robert Satloff. He argues the Trump policy announcement should be seen as an opportunity to fix three serious flaws in the original JCPOA - 1. Finding agreed ways to deter Iranian behaviour outside the deal, such as exploiting a loophole to test missiles or chanelling funds and weapons to regional terrorists; 2. Providing consequences for Iranian violations of the JCPOA terms other than completely ending the deal; and 3. Dealing with the sunset clauses in the JCPOA which effectively allow Iran an unlimited nuclear program after 15 years. He admits it won't be easy but says it can be done if the Administration makes it clear to its allies that the alternative - collapse of the agreement  - is worse. For Satloff's full argument why this represents a "second chance" to get the Iran nuclear deal right,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is Israeli proliferation specialist Emily Landau. She says the most notable feature of the Trump Administration's new Iran policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran's problematic behaviour - including missiles, terrorism and regional destablisation - ending the Obama Administration's insistence that the nuclear issue and agreement were completely separate from these other issues. While she admits the Trump Administration will face difficulty convincing both Congress and the Europeans, she asserts that, overall, the new policy has at least the "potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression." For Landau's complete take, CLICK HERE

Finally, we feature an interview with Mark Dubowitz, a Washington-based Iran expert from the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, who has offered advice to all recent US Administrations on policy toward Iran's nuclear program. Dubowitz cogently explains many of the details of the announcement, such as what happens now in Congress, what the sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards actually entail, and how the deal could be renegotiated. He also discusses the Administration's idea of "trigger points" - new elements of US legislation that would automatically impose new sanctions if Iran violated certain red lines -  and how they might work. For all the insights of this consummate expert on the Iran nuclear file, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in...

Article1

Here's How to Fix But Not Nix the Iran Deal


After decertifying the JCPOA, Trump now has leverage to negotiate a better agreement.


ROBERT SATLOFF
 
The Atlantic, OCT 13, 2017
 
Two years ago, I urged senators to vote “no” on the Iran nuclear deal. My goal was not to have them scrap the accord, which had numerous positive benefits, but to give President Barack Obama leverage to repair its serious flaws. “No,” I argued,  “doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no, never.’ It can also mean ‘not now, not this way.’ It may be the best way to get to ‘yes.’”

The idea of “nix to fix”—not to be confused with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “nix or fix” slogan—didn’t win a lot of support in 2015 but it’s back, thanks to President Trump’s decision not to certify the deal under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and to seek INARA's revision by Congress. Now, his administration may have the standing to win from other signatories, especially the Europeans, support for correcting many of its faults. Such improvements would give the president a strong rationale to recertify the agreement down the road.

Achieving this outcome won’t be easy but it’s doable. Here are three core problems of the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA), and how President Trump could correct them, without requiring Iran to renegotiate any terms of the deal.


The JCPOA signing in 2015 - there is now a chance to fix three core problems with the deal, Satloff argues

Deterrence: The JCPOA was sold, in part, as a way for Iran to recoup billions of dollars in lost sanction revenue and win billions more in new commercial investments to improve its economy and thereby increase the standard of living of its people. All of this would, so the theory went, tie the Iranians to global norms and institutions and make them more moderate actors.

From the beginning, however, there was a real fear that the Iranians would divert large sums to their destabilizing regional ambitions and their terrorist proxies. Over the past two years, that has certainly been the case, with Tehran expanding its provocative ballistic-missile program and extending its regional influence by channeling funds and weapons to Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen, and thousands of Shia militiamen traveling from as far away as Afghanistan to fight in Syria and Iraq.

The ballistic-missile program is particularly problematic. Given that the Iranians are exploiting a loophole that the Obama administration permitted in the relevant UN Security Council resolution to plow ahead with developing missiles potentially capable of delivering nuclear weapons, it is wholly false for advocates of the deal to argue that the JCPOA has halted, frozen, or suspended Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Such a program has three main parts—development, weaponization, and delivery—and ballistic missiles are an integral part of that. In other words, critical aspects of the program are moving ahead, deal or no deal.

To address these problems, the administration could seek understandings now with European and other international partners about penalties to be imposed on Iran for continued investment in its ballistic-missile program and for its provocative regional activities. To be effective, these new multilateral sanctions should impose disproportionate penalties on Iran for every dollar spent on ballistic missiles, Hezbollah, the Houthis, or other negative actors. Since these sanctions are outside the bounds of the JCPOA, their implementation does not violate any promise made to Iran. Pursuing this path would also begin to repair the Obama administration’s error of having an “Iran nuclear policy” but no broader “Iran policy.”

Consequences:  The JCPOA has no agreed-upon penalties for Iranian violations of the deal’s terms, short of the last-resort punishment of a “snapback” of UN sanctions. This is akin to having a legal code with only one punishment—the death penalty—for every crime; the result is that virtually all crimes will go unpunished.  

Again, as the record of the past two years shows, this has been the case. Contrary to press reports, there have been numerous violations of the terms of the deal, but on each occasion, Iran has been given the opportunity to correct its error. That’s a logical outcome of a situation in which there are no agreed-upon penalties for violations other than the threat to scrap the deal altogether.

The solution is for the Trump administration to reach understandings now with America’s European partners, the core elements of which should be made public, on the appropriate penalties to be imposed for a broad spectrum of Iranian violations. The Iran deal gives the UN Security Council wide berth to define such penalties at a later date, but the penalties have no value in deterring Iran from violating the accord unless they are clarified now.

Sunset: One of the biggest flaws in the JCPOA was the expiration of all restrictions on Iran’s enrichment of nuclear material 15 years into the agreement. To be sure, Iran argues that it remains forever bound by its commitment not to produce a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But if anyone believed that promise, there would have been little reason to negotiate the JCPOA in the first place.

As the leader who negotiated the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama would have helped correct this problem if he had issued a declaration making it the policy of the United States, then and in the future, to use all means necessary to prevent Iran’s accumulation of fissile material (highly enriched uranium), given that its sole useful purpose is for a nuclear weapon. Such a statement, to be endorsed by a congressional resolution, would have gone beyond the “all options are on the table” formulation that, regrettably, has lost so much of its credibility in the Middle East.

Two years into the agreement, Iran’s relentless pursuit of more effective ballistic missiles—one leg of a nuclear-weapons program—underscores its strategic decision to pursue the weapons option. Repairing the sunset clause is, therefore, more urgent than ever.

President Trump could achieve this by reaching an agreement with the five other JCPOA signatories—or, if Russia and China balked, at least the three European countries who negotiated the deal, Britain, France, and Germany—on a joint declaration binding themselves to a promise to take whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran’s accumulation of fissile material. To give that declaration real weight, signatories could begin a joint-planning process for executing their commitment, if necessary. America’s allies may even welcome this declaratory approach, since it might assuage private concerns some of them have about Iran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program down the road. And President Trump could repair a major drawback in the original JCPOA negotiations by bringing into those consultations the parties most directly threatened by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons: Israel and the Arab states of the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia.

None of this will be easy. Even in the hands of an agile, well-oiled administration, one that had invested in partnerships with U.S. allies and had a track record of adroit, creative diplomacy, winning agreement to this lengthy “fix Iran deal” agenda would be heavy-lifting, especially with the North Korea crisis looming. And whatever one’s view of the Trump team’s achievements, it’s fair to say that it has been far from an agile, well-oiled administration.

But if the president does go down this path, working in his favor is the simple argument that “the alternative is worse”—namely, the immediate collapse of the Iran nuclear deal and with it all constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. While I don’t believe this alternative leads to war, as the Obama administration argued when it made the case for the JCPOA, many in Berlin, Paris, and London, may think so, which the administration can use to its advantage.

It is not often that governments get a second chance to do the right thing. If handled properly—with purposeful leadership and adroit diplomacy, admittedly very big “ifs”—the Trump administration has the opportunity to correct its predecessor’s flawed deal. In my view, better late than never.

Robert Satloff is the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

BACK TO TOP

Article 2

US Policy on Iran Unveiled: Getting Tough without Leaving the Nuclear Deal

 

Emily B. Landau

INSS Insight No. 980, October 16, 2017

On October 13, 2017, President Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the Revolutionary Guards. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed.

On October 13, 2017, President Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Instead, he declared, the administration would work with Congress and US global and Middle East allies to address the flaws surrounding the deal, as well as other aspects of Iran’s behavior, widely perceived to be threatening and destabilizing. This position was reached following the administration’s policy review on Iran, underway over the past nine months, and outlines a new approach that began to emerge already with the statement in April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – delivered the day after Trump certified the JCPOA for the first time – which sketched in broad strokes the direction of US policy on Iran.


What is notable about the new US policy is that it covers the entirety of Iranian behaviour - including the aggressive missile program.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program: Iran’s missile program, support for terror, and regional aspirations that threaten the national security interests of the US and its allies in the Middle East. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. In contrast, the Trump administration has emphasized that the JCPOA did not achieve its objective of a non-nuclear Iran, and that the deal is only one component of overall US policy toward Iran. The message is that there is a connection between the different manifestations of Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policies, and that all must be dealt with in tandem in order to confront effectively the threats and regional challenges posed by Iran.

Also of significance is that Trump signaled that the US administration will no longer refrain from pushing back against Iran’s aggressions and provocations for fear of Iran exiting the nuclear deal. In fact – in a somewhat surprising move – Trump included his own threat of leaving the deal. He stated that if in cooperation with Congress and US allies the administration cannot reach a satisfactory solution to the problems he delineated, he would cancel US participation in the deal. The specific context seems to direct the threat primarily to Congress and US allies in an effort to urge them to work with the administration to amend the deal. However, it is also clearly a message to Iran that the administration is no longer deterred by Iran’s threats of leaving the deal.

What are the main problems that Trump raised, and how will the administration attempt to fix them?

The leading problems raised by the President have to do with the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, continued regional aggression, and use of proxies, and the radical nature of the regime and its Supreme Leader. He mentioned Iran’s ballistic missile program, hostility to the US and Israel, and its threat to navigation in the Gulf. While the opening of Trump’s speech reviewed Iran’s deadly actions since 1979 and was unnecessarily detailed, this might have been aimed to underscore that Iran has targeted the US repeatedly, rendering dealing with Iran a clear US national security interest.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump warned that in a few years Iran will be able to “sprint” to nuclear weapons. What, he asked, is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran’s nuclear plans? He noted multiple violations of the deal, although most points on his list were not violations per se, but rather problems with the deal. In addition to twice exceeding the limit on the stockpile of heavy water, he pointed out that Iran failed to meet US expectations with regard to research and development of advanced centrifuges.

To be sure, the precise nature of Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges is an issue that independent analysts can only study from such official statements due to the problematic lack of transparency in IAEA reports since implementation of the deal, and the confidentiality that was granted to deliberations of the Joint Commission (that oversees the JCPOA). Trump also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA inspectors, and highlighted Iran’s repeated statements that it would refuse entry of IAEA inspectors into its military sites. Of particular note was Trump’s mention of suspicions regarding cooperation between Iran and North Korea; he said that he will instruct intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough analysis of these connections.

In dealing with these problems, Trump’s major constraint is lack of leverage to compel Iran to agree to a strengthened nuclear deal. The administration’s hands are tied given that it has partners to the JCPOA that are not on the same page, and that the biting sanctions that had pressured Iran to negotiate in the first place were lifted when implementation of the deal began. Clearly it will be difficult for the US to change matters directly related to the deal without the help of Congress and European allies, and Trump stated repeatedly that he will seek their cooperation.

In Europe there is fierce opposition to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, and it is questionable whether and to what degree Europe will be willing to cooperate with the US. It is noteworthy, however, that before the speech was delivered, some European leaders – including France's Macron – signaled a new willingness to address issues outside the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s missile program and regional aggression. Trump hopes they will go along with new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is currently no basis for expecting cooperation from Russia and China.

The administration is also pinning hopes on Congress. With decertification, decision making on the JCPOA moves to Congress, and this is where the Trump administration hopes to introduce changes. Tillerson has explained that the administration will not be asking Congress to move to sanctions at this stage, a step that could lead to the collapse of the deal. Rather, the hope is to pass new legislation that will amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The White House would like to establish a series of benchmarks that would automatically restore sanctions if Iran crosses one of the red lines – or “trigger points”; these would likely relate to Iran’s missile program and the sunset clauses in the JCPOA.

The area where the administration can most easily move forward on its own relates to its approach to the Iranian regime, particularly the regime’s support for terror and other destabilizing regional activities. This explains the strong emphasis in Trump’s speech – and in the document released in parallel entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s New Strategy on Iran” – on the IRGC, and on the need to confront it squarely for its support of terror, fanning of sectarianism, and perpetuation of regional conflict. Trump announced that he was authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction the IRGC as an entity, and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.

Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression. Much will depend on the ability to cooperate with allies and with Congress in advancing these goals. Tillerson's clarifications were important in explaining that contrary to much media analysis, Trump is not seeking to do away with the deal, at least in the short term, or to go to war. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the IRGC. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed. This is due to inherent constraints, and the fact that while the policy makes sense, it is nevertheless a huge undertaking for a very controversial administration, and this in turn can further weaken Trump’s hand.

Dr. Emily Landau is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program, leading its research, conference outreach, and mentorship projects.

BACK TO TOP

Article 3

Has Trump Fixed the 'Worst Deal Ever'? Kinda, Sorta

 

Decertifying the Iran pact isn't the same thing as ripping it up. But Iran hawk Mark Dubowitz thinks it could be a start to a tougher agreement


Tobin Harshaw

Bloomberg, Oct 15, 2017  

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a lot of promises: repealing Obamacare, tax cuts for all, and of course this big, beautiful pledge:

Mexico will pay for the wall!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2016

 

So far, as even his staunchest supporters would admit in their most honest moments, he’s failed to make good on most of it. Until Friday, that is.

That was when the president gave a speech on another longtime promise: ripping up the nuclear deal Iran reached in 2015 with the U.S. and five other major powers –- a.k.a. the Worst Deal Ever. By refusing to certify that Tehran was in compliance, Trump finally took a major step toward making America great again.

Or did he?

In the same speech, Trump made clear that he only kinda, sorta meant it. He doesn’t want the U.S. to walk away from the deal, he explained, and he doesn’t want Congress to blow it up, an authority lawmakers hold because the man responsible for the deal, Barack Obama, never pushed the case to make it an official treaty.

This raises a question: Have we reached a pivotal moment that means nothing? For an explanation, I talked to somebody who been not just a keen observer of the debate but also a player in it: Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington. Dubowitz is a former venture capitalist with a masters from Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies. He also heads the Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance at the FDD, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank established in 2001 with the self-described mission to “promote pluralism, defend democratic values and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism.”  

Equally important, Dubowitz has advised the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations and lawmakers from both parties on Iran policy, and has testified before congressional committees and foreign legislatures more than 20 times.


Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies

Here is an edited transcript of our discussion:

Tobin Harshaw: Mark, at long last, Trump has taken your advice and officially refused to certify Iranian compliance with the 2015 nuclear pact. Let’s start with one immediate criticism of the president: that this was uncalled for because the International Atomic Energy Agency hasn’t found evidence of Tehran’s cheating. But you think the case goes beyond just what the UN inspectors have done, correct?

Mark Dubowitz: The Trump administration’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and his team led an interagency process working with other senior national security officials to develop a broad Iran strategy of which decertification of the nuclear pact is just one component. They deserve all of the credit for this work. As it has done for 15 years over three administrations, my organization, FDD, provided nonpartisan research and technical analysis to them and to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

The president refused to certify not on compliance issues but on the basis that too much was given to the Iranian regime for too little. That is actually a condition for decertification in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (Inara) that passed 98-1 in the Senate and 400-25 in the House: The “suspension of sanctions is appropriate and proportionate to the specific and verifiable measures taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program.”

The decertification recognizes the fatally flawed architecture of the nuclear deal: that it gives Tehran patient pathways to nuclear weapons and intercontinental weapons simply by waiting for key restrictions on its nuclear and missile programs to expire or sunset. As the deal currently stands, Iran gets all of this simply by complying. That is why the deal, as currently constructed, is detrimental to the vital national security interests of the U.S. (a related condition of Inara).

TH: While the president’s decision made a major statement, it didn’t really change anything, and he doesn’t even want Congress to rip it up right away. Did that disappoint you?

MD: No. I don’t support ripping up the deal. I support strengthening the deal to make permanent the expiring restrictions on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and guaranteed access to Iran’s military sites, which is where the regime has conducted secret-weapons and enrichment work in the past. Iran’s leaders repeatedly thunder that the U.N. weapons inspectors will never get into their military sites, which severely undermines the verification and inspection parts of the deal. I support tougher limitations on Iran’s ability to develop advanced centrifuges, which are unnecessary if Iran truly wants a civilian nuclear program, but which make sense if they want to build an industrial-size nuclear-weapons capability, especially one where the regime might quickly breakout or clandestinely sneak out to a bomb. I also support stronger restrictions on Iran’s missile program to prevent the regime from developing longer-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads targeting our allies and intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the homeland.

The president’s decision puts the Europeans, the Iranians and Congress on notice that he won’t accept a fatally flawed deal that paves the way to nuclear-tipped ICBMs.  

TH: Rather than re-imposing sanctions right away, Trump would like Congress to establish certain “trigger points” that would independently bring new U.S. punishments. Do you think that the right compromise approach?

MD: It’s the correct approach. It challenges Congress to put real teeth into the 2015 congressional opposition of the Iran deal when 61 percent of lawmakers in both houses and from both parties went on record opposing the deal. These trigger points would only reinstate sanctions in the future if Iran takes its nuclear-weapons capability to below a one-year breakout and blocks access to military sites. It also should trigger sanctions if Iran continues its march to ICBMs and deploys advanced centrifuges. And since these are sanctions triggered by future events, they are not today a violation of the nuclear deal. This move should be backed by Congress to provide enhanced leverage for this administration or a future one to negotiate follow-on agreements that address the fatal flaws of the nuclear deal.

Surprisingly, before Trump’s decertification decision, Senator Christopher Coons, the Democrat from Delaware, who supported the Iran deal in 2015, proposed another certification with a threat to “exit the JCPOA” -- the abbreviation by which the nuclear deal is known -- if a “focused period of negotiation” with Congress and “our partners in this deal” failed. This suggests that at least some leading Democrats are contemplating ways to enhance leverage to fix the deal.

TH: Given the myriad other grounds the U.S. can use to sanction the Tehran regime -- human-rights abuses, sponsoring terrorism, etc. -- why do we need to get into punishments that might cause Iran to back out of its nuclear promises? After all, the U.S. has already given up most of its concessions under the pact, while Iran's lay ahead of it.

MD: The U.S. and Europe will be giving up many more concessions over the life of the deal as Iran receives hundreds of billions of dollars in additional sanctions relief in the form of trade and investment. The regime needs this money to emerge over the next decade with an industrial-size enrichment program, a near-zero breakout time, an easier clandestine path to a nuclear warhead, long-range ballistic missiles, access to advanced conventional weaponry, greater regional dominance threatening our Gulf allies, Israel and U.S. interests, and a more powerful economy that will be increasingly immunized against Western sanctions. This is what I call the “lethal Iranian end-state.”

Tehran knows it can count on the Europeans and Asians to push back on new sanctions in the future once they have hundreds of billions of dollars in trade and investment with the regime. They can also count on those supporting the JCPOA to argue  that Iran will never accept this concession or that concession. That’s a poor negotiating tactic, self-defeating and what contributed to the currently flawed deal.

Now is the time to try and fix the nuclear deal -- not when American leverage is significantly weaker and the Iranian regime is significantly stronger.

TH: The idea seems to be that this new approach will give the U.S. more leverage to bring Iran and the other parties to the deal back to the table and improve it. Do you think that's likely, or even possible? I know French President Emmanuel Macron has voiced displeasure with the deal, but how much impetus is there for actually changing?

MD:I hope there is a willingness on the part of the Europeans to reach a transatlantic consensus to fix the deal. I think President Trump is serious when he says is prepared to walk away from the deal if there is no progress. I was surprised by how tough he was in his speech in issuing that very clear warning. President Macron has publicly spokenabout French willingness “to discuss possible sanctions over Iran’s ballistic missile program, open negotiations immediately on what happens after the limitations to the accord begin to be lifted in 2025 and hold a discussion on the role of Iran in the region.” If he is sincere, and the British and Germans are prepared to join that effort, that may provide the impetus for actually fixing the deal. Then the West will have stronger leverage, regardless of what the Iranian regime threatens to do.

TH: Let's say we get a do-over -- what aspects of the deal would you like to see changed? Should the behaviors it bars be limited only to Iran's nuclear ambitions or should its efforts to destabilize the Middle East be brought into play?

MD: I have outlined earlier the main aspects of the deal that need to be changed. I am sure the administration, as well as the “E3,” will have other concerns with the deal that will need to be addressed. I would only add that the U.S. and the Europeans should also reach agreement on how to address the Iranian regime’s other destructive behaviors that continue to threaten the Middle East and international security.


The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp - to be designated as a terrorist group in its entirety

TH: Trump also decided not to have the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps designated as a terrorist group, in part it seems because of the shared enemy of the Islamic State. Was that a mistake?

MD: The administration actually did designate the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization. It was done under Treasury Department authorities using an anti-terrorism executive order that has been used by George W. Bush and Barack Obama for countless other sanctions. The administration decided to do it this way instead of using a State Department designation of the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. There are some differences between the two approaches but the overall impact is very similar. For the first time, the U.S. government has designated the entire IRGC, not just its overseas wing (the Quds Force), as a terrorist organization. That’s completely appropriate since the IRGC is the revolutionary wing of the regime and chiefly responsible, at the direction of the Supreme Leader, for most of Iran’s destructive activities.

TH: OK, let's say we try all that and even get the Europeans on board, but Iran refuses to budge. Do we blow the deal up?

MD: President Trump must maintain a credible threat at all times that he is prepared to walk away from the deal if it doesn’t advance the vital national security interests of the United States. I hope it doesn’t come to that, though.

TH: Last, let's talk the bigger picture. Many supporters of the deal feel that Trump's action represents the U.S. going back on its word, and that neither our allies nor our enemies -- i.e. North Korea -- will trust us going forward. What's your response?  

MD: There is ample precedent to amend the Iran nuclear deal. Congress has required amendments to more than 200 treaties before receiving Senate consent, including significant bilateral Cold War arms control agreements with the Soviets like the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and the Peaceful Nuclear Explosions Treaty, as well as multilateral agreements like the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiated with 87 participating countries, including Iran, by President Bill Clinton. And it’s not just Republicans putting up obstacles. During the Cold War, Democratic senators like Henry Jackson withstood pressure from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger who insisted that the deals they negotiated go unchanged. This all happened at a time when Moscow had thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at America. The Iran nuclear deal is not even a treaty; it’s a “joint comprehensive plan of action” which requires a new plan of action. The Obama administration refused to submit what they called a “landmark” nuclear deal to the Senate for ratification. The deal should not be granted a unique status in the annals of U.S. arms control or nonproliferation history.

The message then, and the message now, should be that the U.S. will not live with deeply flawed agreements that are not in its vital national security interests. There’s an opportunity to fix this agreement. I hope those committed to permanently cutting off Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons and ICBMs take that opportunity.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

BACK TO TOP