President Trump and the Iran Nuclear Deal

Let us hope that President Trump will be tough in deeds, not just with words.

The U.S. House of Representatives this week voted overwhelmingly (419-1) to extend sanctions on Iran for the next 10 years.  This legislation is meant to ensure the radical Iranian regime complies with the international nuclear agreement.  The Iran Sanctions Extension Act needs the approval of the Senate, and President Obama’s signature.  If President Obama should refrain from signing the Act, it is more than likely that the Republican dominated House and Senate will submit this piece of legislation to President-Elect Donald Trump for his signature.  The Iran Sanctions Extension Act is due to expire at the end of the year.

While President Trump may not keep to his promise to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran, he would certainly seek to use U.S. economic leverage to punish the aggressive regime of the Ayatollahs.  According to the official Islamic Republic News Agency, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani informed his cabinet ministers following the U.S. elections last week that the nuclear agreement between the P-5+1 and Iran “Cannot be overturned by one government’s decision,”  

During the campaign appearance last March before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Donald J. Trump described the Iran nuclear deal as “terrible,” and used as an example, the Obama administration’s bad negotiating skills.  He said, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”  Trump also said that he would “police that contract so tough that they (the Iranians) don’t have a chance.”  Trump pointed out the deficiency of the nuclear agreement in that it has time-limited restrictions on Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its other nuclear activities.  Trump also railed against the excessive concessions made to the mullahs of Iran.  But, like many other promises made during the campaign, Trump will probably modify his promise on Iran’s nuclear deal. 

In a recent position paper, Trump’s two top advisors on Israel, David Friedman and Jason Rosenblatt stated that, “The U.S. must counteract Iran’s ongoing violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and their noncompliance with past and present sanctions, as well as the agreements they signed, and implement tough, new sanctions when needed to protect the world and Iran’s neighbors from its continuing nuclear and non-nuclear threats.”

It would be difficult to re-negotiate or re-litigate the nuclear deal given that the U.S. is one of the signatories to it, and it is unlikely that the Iranians will be open to such negotiation.  The alternative open to Trump is to turn over the nuclear deal to Congress, where the Republican majority voted against the deal.  Republicans in Congress are considering options in dealing with Iran.  Some such legislative ideas include targeting sectors of the Iranian economy involved with acquiring ballistic missiles, which were not included in the nuclear deal.  Congress is certain to consider punitive actions against Iran’s Revolutionary Guards involved in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and in sponsoring worldwide terrorism.

In the meantime, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with supervising the Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement has confirmed a number of Iranian violations.  “For the second time, Iran has surpassed the 130 metric ton threshold for heavy water, used to cool reactors that can produce substantial amounts of plutonium.”  A month after the nuclear deal went into effect (January 2016) the IAEA noted for the first time that, “Iran had exceeded its allotted limit of heavy water.  That time, Iran exceeded the limit by a greater amount, with 130.9 tons.”  Iran also breached a ballistic missile ban that was extended for eight years under the nuclear deal.  

With the Obama administration desperately seeking to preserve at all costs its “achievement” - securing the nuclear deal, and the Europeans eagerly pursuing their commercial interests with Iran; the Tehran regime has gotten away unpunished.  Ironically, Secretary of State John Kerry has been a vocal advocate for investments in Iran… 

Another reason Trump won’t scrap the Iran deal is that he wants to prove that he, unlike the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, can reset U.S. relations with Russia in a positive way.  He has been advised that undoing the nuclear deal will not sit well with Moscow or America’s European allies.  But, while Congress and Trump’s foreign policy team contemplate action against the Islamic Republic, the Tehran regime has deployed Russian supplied anti-aircraft S-300 missiles at the Fordo nuclear facility, the same facility that operates on uranium enrichment that was due to be scaled down under last year’s deal with the world powers.

Russia and Iran have also negotiated an arms deal worth $10 billion. This follows the delivery of Russia’s S-300 air defense missile system to Iran last October.  RT-Russia reported that Victor Ozerov, head of the defense and security committee of the Russian parliament upper house said that the arms deal includes T-90 tanks, artillery systems, and aircraft.  Ozerov also noted that the arms in question fall under a UN moratorium on Iran.  

It has also been reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have observed Iranian efforts in Europe and in China to obtain sensitive technologies controlled by last year’s nuclear deal.  At the same time, the UN has not yet hired the full complement of 11 nuclear deal enforcement personnel, including four investigators.

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) is one Member of Congress with a clear idea about what President-Elect Trump should do about the nuclear deal with Iran. In an interview on MSNBC last week he said, “The U.S. can, and in my opinion, should re-impose sanctions on Iran not just for violating the terms of the nuclear deal, but also for violating UN Security Council resolutions related to ballistic missiles or its support for terrorism, or abuse of human rights.  Of course we will work closely with the President-Elect to try to take a harder line on Iran and give them a new sense of limits when it comes to U.S. interests in the region.”

Senator Cotton, a solid Republican conservative, while speaking of re-imposing sanctions, has not called for scrapping the nuclear deal.  Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies opined that under Trump there should be “no more free lunches for the Iranians, no more unilateral concessions, no more excuses.” He too didn’t suggest scrapping the deal.

There is little doubt that the nuclear deal negotiated by the P-5+1 with Iran was a bad deal, and it should be scrapped.  The deal, according to the Obama administration foreign policy team was supposed to advance the “moderates” in the Iranian regime.  It did not.  The hardliners of the IRGC still control all things in Iran with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s full support.  The regime is determined to acquire nuclear weapons sooner rather than later, when the 10 year agreement expires.  Under President Trump, the sooner the U.S. and its western allies show resolve, and put the use of force against Iran on the table, whether under the existing agreement or a scrapped agreement, the more secure the world will be.  

Iran is a menace to America and the world, not just because of its nuclear ambitions.  It is the world’s foremost state-sponsor of terrorism.  The IRGC attacked American personnel directly and through its proxies Hezbollah (Beirut Marines Compound and U.S Embassy in 1983 and the Khobar Towers in 1996) and the Houthis in Yemen.  The Houthis have recently attacked a U.S. Naval ship.  Let us hope that President Trump will be tough in deeds, not just with words.