Why Don­ald Trump is pre­pared to ditch the Iran nu­clear deal

The National - News - - OPINION - CON COUGH­LIN Con Cough­lin is the Tele­graph’s De­fence and For­eign Af­fairs Ed­i­tor and au­thor of Khome­ini’s Ghost: The Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion and the Rise of Mil­i­tant Is­lam, which is pub­lished by Macmil­lan

Iran’s com­mit­ment to caus­ing desta­bil­i­sa­tion through­out the Arab world is the key to un­der­stand­ing why Don­ald Trump’s White House has opted to es­ca­late ten­sions with Tehran.

Mr Trump has pro­voked con­sid­er­able con­tro­versy on both sides of the At­lantic by seek­ing to make po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal from the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process, whereby the White House con­ducts reg­u­lar as­sess­ments on whether Tehran is com­ply­ing fully with the terms of the nu­clear deal it struck in 2015 with the US and five other world pow­ers.

Mr Trump’s de­ci­sion to fo­cus on the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is­sue has pro­voked crit­i­cism both at home and abroad, not least be­cause the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, the US-spon­sored or­gan­i­sa­tion charged with mon­i­tor­ing the nu­clear deal, says that, in strictly tech­ni­cal terms, Iran is in com­pli­ance.

This has led a num­ber of prom­i­nent politi­cians in Wash­ing­ton, both Democrats and Repub­li­cans, to ques­tion Mr Trump’s wis­dom in fo­cus­ing on cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, while Theresa May, Bri­tain’s prime min­is­ter, ear­lier this week phoned Mr Trump to make a per­sonal plea not to end the nu­clear deal.

But while the ar­gu­ments on the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is­sue are dom­i­nat­ing the head­lines, the real rea­son the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is spoil­ing for a fight with Tehran is its in­sis­tence on con­tin­u­ing with its ef­forts to spread po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity through­out the re­gion.

When Barack Obama led the diplo­matic charge to se­cure the agree­ment, which put con­straints on Tehran’s at­tempts to de­velop a nu­clear weapons ar­se­nal, the clear ex­pec­ta­tion in Wash­ing­ton and other world cap­i­tals was that this would re­sult in Tehran adopt­ing a more re­spon­si­ble ap­proach to the out­side world.

In­stead, the op­po­site has been the case, with the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards Corps, which re­mains the coun­try’s most dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal force, us­ing the tens of bil­lions of dol­lars Iran has re­ceived as a re­sult of the sanc­tions be­ing lifted to in­ten­sify its ef­forts to in­crease Ira­nian in­flu­ence through­out the re­gion.

The con­flict in Ye­men is a case in point. The Saudi-led coali­tion has suf­fered much crit­i­cism about the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis now de­vel­op­ing in that be­nighted coun­try, not least be­cause too many west­ern me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions seem to be con­ve­niently over­look­ing the role of Ira­nian-backed Houthi mili­tias in the con­flict.

A re­cent re­port on BBC World on the cri­sis, for ex­am­ple, went to great lengths to crit­i­cise the role of the Saudi-led coali­tion with­out once mak­ing men­tion of the con­tri­bu­tion of the Ira­nian-backed Houthis.

The White House and other West­ern pow­ers like Bri­tain, on the other hand, have not suc­cumbed to such a glar­ingly bi­ased view of the con­flict.

They are well aware of Iran’s ma­lign con­tri­bu­tion to the con­flict, with the IRGC reg­u­larly send­ing ship­ments of weapons and am­mu­ni­tion to the Houthis for use against the Saudi-led coali­tion.

These are thought to in­clude some of the sur­face-to-sur­face mis­siles that the Houthis have used to at­tack tar­gets within Saudi Ara­bia it­self, in­clud­ing at least one mis­sile at­tack that was di­rected against the holy city of Mecca ear­lier this year.

The dispute be­tween Qatar and the quar­tet of Arab states over Doha’s sup­port for ter­ror­ism is an­other ex­am­ple of how Iran seizes on any op­por­tu­nity to med­dle in the af­fairs of the Arab world.

No sooner had the Arab coali­tion de­cided to take mea­sures against Qatar to per­suade it to end its sup­port for Is­lamist mil­i­tants than Tehran had of­fered its sup­port to Qatar.

Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain are among the many Arab coun­tries that have been on the re­ceiv­ing end of un­war­ranted and un­wel­come in­ter­fer­ence on the part of Iran in their af­fairs.

And if that was not enough, Iran has also con­tin­ued in­vest­ing in its bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gramme, which many in­tel­li­gence ex­perts be­lieve is in­ti­mately con­nected with the nu­clear pro­gramme, and rep­re­sents a clear and de­lib­er­ate vi­o­la­tion of the spirit of the nu­clear deal.

If Iran was really se­ri­ous about giv­ing up its as­pi­ra­tions to de­velop nu­clear weapons, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials ask, then why is it still in­vest­ing heav­ily in its mis­sile pro­gramme?

It is no se­cret that, in the re­cent past, Iran has worked closely with North Korea on the de­vel­op­ment of so­phis­ti­cated mis­sile tech­nol­ogy, and the con­cern now in­side Wash­ing­ton se­cu­rity cir­cles is that the re­cent im­prove­ments in North Korea’s mis­sile sys­tems ca­pa­bil­i­ties, which are now be­lieved to have the range to tar­get Amer­ica and Europe, could soon be passed to Tehran.

These, then, are the real rea­sons why the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pears so de­ter­mined to ini­ti­ate a new era of con­fronta­tion with Iran, and why there is much more to the row about de­cer­ti­fi­ca­tion than meets the eye.

Mr Trump made it abun­dantly clear where his re­gional pri­or­i­ties lie in the Arab world when he vis­ited Saudi Ara­bia this year, and pledged a new era of close co­op­er­a­tion with Riyadh.

And by do­ing so, it fol­lows that the pres­i­dent is go­ing to take a dim view of a coun­try like Iran whose en­tire rai­son

d’etre seems to be to un­der­mine Saudi in­ter­ests and in­flu­ence at every turn.

And if this means that, in or­der to hold Iran to ac­count for its ac­tions, Mr Trump is pre­pared to ditch the nu­clear deal, then so be it.

For when it comes to deal­ing with Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, Mr Trump would not be the first per­son to con­clude that no deal is bet­ter than a bad deal.

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