Liv­ing with the Iran deal

San Francisco Chronicle - - OPINION -

One for­eign pol­icy prom­ise Pres­i­dent Trump made on the cam­paign trail was shred­ding the Iran nu­clear deal. The Obama-bro­kered pack­age that swapped an end to fi­nan­cial sanc­tions in ex­change for lim­its on bomb re­search was “dis­as­trous” and “the worst deal ever,” can­di­date Trump re­peat­edly said.

Now it ap­pears that pledge is go­ing on a heap of other Trump turn­abouts. The con­tra­dic­tory ac­tions and hazy words sug­gest the White House won’t be tear­ing it up any­time soon. That re­sult, tem­po­rary and un­clear as it sounds, is still an out­come to wel­come from a Trump team find­ing its way.

A State Depart­ment anal­y­sis this week de­clared that Tehran is com­ply­ing with the agree­ment that curbs weapons work. Con­fus­ingly, Trump went the other way, say­ing Iran wasn’t “liv­ing up to the spirit of the agree­ment” but he stopped short of re­ject­ing it.

Bal­anc­ing th­ese two views — a co­op­er­at­ing Iran ver­sus an ever dan­ger­ous foe — is a puz­zle. But the net re­sult for now is likely the con­tin­ued life of the plan that caps Iran’s ex­pan­sive am­bi­tions in the Mideast when it comes to build­ing a bomb.

Trump and his team are on tar­get in cit­ing Tehran’s med­dle­some con­duct. The nu­clear lim­i­ta­tion does noth­ing about Iran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram, its role in back­ing a mur­der­ous Syr­ian gov­ern­ment or a proxy war with Saudi Ara­bia in Ye­men.

But dump­ing the deal makes mat­ters worse. Now that sanc­tions have dropped away, it will be nearly im­pos­si­ble to reim­pose them, es­pe­cially with other sig­na­tory coun­tries, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, China, Bri­tain and France, un­will­ing to roll back the clock. Build­ing a wall, as with Mex­ico, won’t work, Mr. Pres­i­dent.

There are time fac­tors that can change the pic­ture. Iran has pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in mid-May. Hos­tile ac­tions or shot­gun tweets by the White House could strengthen hard­lin­ers in Iran who never liked the deal that con­strained bomb work.

On a par­al­lel track is full-scale re­view by the Trump team of the sanc­tions sus­pended but not completely re­voked. There’s a chance that the pres­i­dent could reim­pose the em­bargo that curbs trade, fi­nances and oil with a quick sig­na­ture.

Ab­sent any con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence of cheat­ing, Trump should keep the deal in place. Iran re­mains an an­tag­o­nist worth op­pos­ing, and bot­tling up its bomb­mak­ing pro­gram re­moves the ul­ti­mate dan­ger of nu­clear weapons.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sends mixed sig­nals.

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