Last Thursday, July 20, I posted, "Trump Grapples with Iran Deal." I wrote about bureaucratic warfare within the administration, saying:
A virtual war for Washington broke out last week. Principals in the administration were in a battle over whether to certify Iran was in accord with U.S. law and terms of the nuclear deal. On one side were President Trump, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo; they urged Trump to change course and say Iran was not in accord, per the AP.
The other side included Secretary of State Tillerson and the generals, Jim Mattis at Defense, and H.R. McMaster at the White House, Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the other major powers involved in the nuclear accord — Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany. (Contrary to conventional wisdom, the deal was not a signed document.)
The Bottom Line Upfront:
From the White House, President Trump completely controls Iran policy of certification to Congress if Iran meets the relevant conditions of U.S. law and the nuclear accord. But, the National Security Council review of Iran policy should also focus on big picture tasks and not too much on narrow issues like certification of whether Iran is in accord with our laws and terms of the nuclear deal.
From Grappling with the Nuclear Deal to Grabbing it for the White House
On Friday, July 21, the president decided to take the action away from the State Department and place it squarely in the White House. Trump assigned a White House team to target the Iran nuclear deal, hence sidelining Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Doing the heavy lifting for the president are Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist and Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president. They serve as liaison between junior members of the team, which includes top Middle East advisor Derek Harvey; Joel Rayburn, the director for Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria; Michael Anton, strategic communications; and Victoria Coates, Anton’s deputy on strategic communications. This team now has the lead at the White House and within interagency committees.
Unhappy with Secretary Tillerson over Iran, the president turned to trusted aides, per a trio of experts at Foreign Policy, Ana Winter, Robby Gramer, and Dan De Luce. They wrote Bannon, joined with Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, and were particularly vocal when speaking to Tillerson, repeatedly asking him to explain U.S. national security benefits of certification to the president. That meeting did not sit well with the Secretary, to say the least.
Although the Secretary probably still has the support of the generals at Defense and the White House, Tillerson bears the brunt of the president’s wrath for not presenting an option to him of not certifying Iran was in accord with terms of U.S. law and the deal. The FP trio quotes a source as saying Trump "is resolved to not recertify deal in 90 days [from the second certification]."
First, the Trump administration is likely to refrain from certifying Iran is in accord with terms of U.S. law and nuclear deal, resulting in departure of Secretary Tillerson from State, during the next 3 months, if not before.
Second, the gap between the United States and other major powers — Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany — is likely to grow. And, more importantly, within the Atlantic alliance, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister May, and President Macron are likely to believe President Trump is sacrificing allied unity for an American-First policy, which might be just fine with Trump.
Third, failure to certify Iran is in accord with the nuclear deal is likely to increase the possibility Tehran would not meet its obligations under the terms of the deal. The Iran nuclear accord posed a simple trade: In exchange for Tehran agreeing to limit its nuclear capabilities, economic sanctions would be lifted. The problem, however, is President Obama and Secretary Kerry allowed Iran to receive sanctions relief upfront and Iran’s pledge to limit its nuclear capabilities is ongoing for another 8 or so years.
The Way Forward for President Trump
I posted a piece in Foreign Policy on June 6, 2016, which sets an historical perspective for a way forward for Trump. The article stated, "The Obama administration failed to hold Tehran accountable for nuclear violations, downplayed Iran’s economic windfall from sanctions relief, and ignored the deal’s negative regional implications for state sponsorship of terrorism."
If President Trump decides to remain a party to the nuclear accord, he should seek to deter Iran from violating obligations to restrain its nuclear capabilities, address holes in the missile technology side of the nuclear deal equation, and use coercive diplomacy to deter Iran’s continued participation in state-sponsored terrorism.
One route to coercing Iran is to place regime change by the Iranian people on the table. Noting Trump’s Iran policy is still under review, Secretary Tillerson said Washington would work with Iranian opposition groups toward the "peaceful transition of that government."
The National Council of Resistance of Iran is a broad coalition of dissident groups that can assist a U.S. policy of effecting peaceful political transition in Iran. So, President Trump’s National Security Council review of Iran policy should focus on big picture topics like regime change, in addition to issues like whether to certify if Iran is in accord with U.S. law and terms of the nuclear deal.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) served as a senior member on the Middle East Desk of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration, Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to international security and arms control talks in Europe, and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Tanter is on the comprehensive list of conservative writers and columnists who appear in The Wall Street Journal, Townhall.com, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Human Events, The American Spectator, and now in Newsmax. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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