President Donald Trump has a penchant for speaking to international audiences as if he’s addressing a campaign rally. He has boasted in phone calls to world leaders about the size of his adoring crowds and how big his Electoral College victory margin was.
No surprise, then, that his speech before the U.N. General Assembly last month included language about the Iran nuclear accord reminiscent of his 2016 rhetoric. A key sign that he’s in campaign mode is when he diverges from his text and inserts phrases like “believe me.”
“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” he told gathered leaders. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.”
Even though his own secretary of defense, James Mattis, openly disagrees, Trump is threatening to scrap the Iran nuclear accord. All Americans should care because a nuclear-armed Iran, on top of a nuclear-armed North Korea, would constitute an international nightmare. The only thing currently stopping Iran is the very accord that Trump wants to cancel.
In spite of his tough rhetoric, Trump has abided by the 2015 accord. In April, he certified that Iran is in compliance. He did it again in July. Another certification deadline looms next week, and multiple media outlets have reported that Trump plans to decertify the deal and force Congress to revisit the issue..
Trump has sharply criticized the relaxation of harsh international sanctions and freeing up of frozen Iranian bank assets negotiated in exchange for Iran’s 25-year freeze on production of bomb-capable enriched uranium.
If Trump cancels the deal, the sanctions regime could collapse. Iran would become even freer to engage in international commerce and finance. Trump speaks as if it were solely a U.S.-Iranian accord. In fact, the United States is one of five principal partners — joining Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany and the European Union.
A U.S. pullout would free the others to go their own way. Several likely would jump at the chance to resume full commercial ties with Tehran.
It required years of deft and constant diplomacy to persuade Russia and China to go along with the sanctions regime, which created such harsh conditions inside Iran that the government felt compelled to make nuclear concessions.
As Trump has learned to his embarrassment with North Korea, the deterrence options are limited and consequences are huge should the United States abort the accord and decide to seek military retaliation. Experts say U.S. airstrikes would not significantly cripple Iran’s nuclear capabilities. And Iran has multiple ways to destabilize the region and interrupt Persian Gulf oil shipments in return.
The current formula isn’t perfect, but it’s working. The Trump touch has no place where nuclear holocaust could result.