Support is growing for President Trump as he holds Tehran accountable for nuclear violations, is critical of Iran’s economic windfall from sanctions relief, and places Tehran on notice for its state sponsorship of international terrorism.
In contrast to Trump, after his first year, President Obama failed to hold Tehran accountable for nuclear violations, downplayed Iran’s expected bonanza from sanctions relief, and ignored the nuclear deal’s negative regional implications.
On Jan. 12, Trump said, “Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal.” Lacking an agreement, he indicated that he would not again waive sanctions to stay in the Iran nuclear deal and, if an accord were not in reach, he would withdraw from the deal “immediately.”
On Feb. 22, Vice President Pence went a step further stating:
“We put the leading state sponsor of terror on notice…The United States will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing activities across the region, and this country will no longer certify the disastrous Iran nuclear deal.”
On Feb. 26, 2018, Mark Landler, David Sanger, and Gardiner Harris wrote during Jan. 2018, Trump started a 120-day clock for withdrawing from the deal, unless both Congress and the European allies penned new conditions into the political commitment. That is, the West would reimpose the pre-deal nuclear sanctions, if Iran violated any of the new conditions.
Although many countries have nuclear programs and at least eight possessed nuclear weapons when the deal with Iran came into effect, it is so different Tehran was singled out for sanctions by the UN, EU, and the USA. Why? Iran hid uranium enrichment facilities, in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), for almost two decades.
The story behind the story: Iran is not a normal state; rather, it is a revolutionary country: Iran places continuation of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, as its top priority, at the expense of adhering to commitments. So, Iran cheats and retreats temporarily before cheating again. Evidence? In 2002-2003, the National Council of Resistance of Iran provided information partially verified by the Institute for Science and International Security.
Henry Kissinger is fond of saying Iran has yet to decide, if it is a country or a cause — a normal state, or revolutionary one. Tehran acts as an ordinary one, with accoutrements like embassies abroad and suave diplomats representing the state. To paraphrase Ray Takeyh in “Guardians of the Revolution,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is the real “State, holding hard power,” in alignment with the Supreme Leader, and leave “soft power,” to presidents, Foreign Ministers, and Parliaments. And though some integrated hard and soft power into a “smart power” strategy, as did Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, per The Diplomat, Iran does not.
On Mar. 31, 2016, GOP Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KA), [now Director of CIA], Peter Roskam (R-IL), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY) reminded Secretary of State John Kerry in selling the nuclear deal, he assured Congress of providing a diplomatic response to Tehran’s missile launches; he did not.
On Oct. 13, Trump said his administration “cannot and will not” certify Iran’s compliance with the Iran deal before Congress, as he set out his plan for dealing with Tehran.
Trump announced he will remain in the deal reached under Obama, but will not certify to Congress Iran is complying under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015. Instead, he’s looking to Congress to revise INARA and to allied parties to come up with new restrictions on Iran to coincide with the deal. Trump accused Iran of not living up to the “spirit” of the original commitment.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, CIA Director Pompeo said:
“July 31, 2017 marks one year since Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Now, there is no need to re-litigate that ‘political commitment,’ but we might evaluate whether it has helped protect the United States, our people, and our interests. Unfortunately for our country’s future, the answer to that inquiry is a resounding no. As a result, the Congress must act to change Iran’s behavior, and, ultimately, its regime.”
The Way Forward
Considering our argument, here are three suggestions:
First, Trump’s new policies are emerging heralding a strategic approach. For most “Gulfies,” combatting Tehran’s regional agenda is a litmus test for them. Because, they see improvements against Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Syria.
Pursuit of the deal affected a wide range of U.S. Middle East policies, during Obama’s second term: He was blind to malign activities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, to avoid tensions with Tehran. The deal no longer restrains Trump on Iran. Think cruise missile strike in Syria and new sanctions aimed at Hezbollah, neither occurred during Obama-era talks.
Second, ninety days from Oct. 13 is Jan. 11, 2018. And ninety days from Jan. 11 is Apr. 11. That date is when Trump must decide, per INARA, whether to abandon the deal. But there are hints by Tehran it may pull out of the deal. Reuter’s reported on Feb. 22, an Iranian official saying Iran could walk away if it doesn’t realize economic benefits.
Third, the Iranian said banks were not doing business with Tehran, due to future uncertainty over the deal and Trump’s announcement he would no longer waive sanctions, unless weaknesses in the deal were fixed.
Stuart Levey, former Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in the Bush and Obama administrations, said in Oct. 2016, businesses remain hesitant to engage in commerce with Iran: Risks are too high, due to terror support and money laundering.
Also, former American UN Ambassador John Bolton said in Paris to the Grand Gathering of Iranians for Free Iran: “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself!”
After ~400 days in office, it’s time for Trump to abandon the Iran Deal, if he can’t get our allies to accept his fixes. Doing so leaves us in a stronger position than under Obama.
Prof. Raymond Tanter (@ProfRTanter) 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.
Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduate programs in Global Affairs and Human Security and Negotiations and Conflict Management in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSheehan.
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