Living with the Iran deal
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.