On Oct. 15, President Donald Trump will again accept the reality of a signed nuclear deal with Iran — or won’t.
Conflicting reports concerning his intentions confuse not only the media, they also confuse the governments involved in the deal. The Germans don’t know what Trump will do. The Russians don’t know. The Iranians don’t know. The Americans — yes, even those in Trump’s own government — are among the uninformed.
Asked in a recent interview if he had decided to pull the United States out of the deal, Trump responded with a vague “I won’t say that.” Maybe to maintain the mystery? Maybe because he hasn’t made up his mind?
The periodic certification of the Iran deal by the president is not a part of the deal with Iran. It is a requirement by Congress. So the Iranians don’t much care what the president reports to Congress; what they care about is the possible action by Congress after a negative report. They worry about new sanctions, and threaten to retaliate if such sanctions materialize. They worry about new demands, and clarify, for example, that demands to limit Iran’s missile program were not part of the deal.
The Iranians have a point. This wasn’t the deal. As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, explained in a New York Times op-ed: “It was always clear that the path to reaching a nuclear deal meant setting aside other geopolitical concerns.”
Indeed, it was clear. It was clear to Iran, and that’s why it decided to sign the deal. It was clear to President Barack Obama’s administration, which ignored all other aspects of Iran’s problematic policies as it rushed to make a deal. It was clear to all critics of the deal, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. In fact, that was a main reason they opposed the deal.
What happens if Trump declines to recertify the deal? Nothing happens unless Congress acts. And if Congress acts, a lot depends on how it acts. Even more depends on how Iran responds to how Congress acts. And then, on how the U.S. responds to Iran’s response.
In other words: It doesn’t much matter if the Trump administration does or doesn’t certify the deal before Congress. The only thing that matters — and this was true before the deal was signed as it is true today — is the level of resolve on the part of the international community, or of countries such as the U.S., to prevent Iran from advancing its strategic objectives, such as having nuclear capabilities.
In other words, not much will change if Trump decides not to recertify the deal. What matters is whether Trump has a plan for how to thwart Iran’s malicious intentions or whether he has resolved to prioritize thwarting Iran’s malicious intentions.
When the U.S. decided to accept the deal, it was trying to ensure Iran didn’t turn nuclear on Obama’s watch. The administration was kicking the hot Iran potato to some future president’s court. Declining to recertify the deal, without having the aforementioned resolve and plan, isn’t much different. Trump, by not certifying the deal or by asking Congress to toughen the law overseeing Iran’s compliance with the deal (as Bloomberg reported), will be tossing the hot Iran potato to Congress — a body ill-equipped to make foreign policy. He will make sure that if Iran keeps moving toward achieving its objectives, he will not be the one to take the blame.
Of course, there is a symbolic significance to the way Trump handles the matter. And the fact remains that refusing to recertify the deal could be the ignition of a process aimed at curbing Iran’s belligerent behavior. But as Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren explained in his op-ed in The New York Times, “if canceled, the deal must be replaced by crippling sanctions that force Iran to dismantle its nuclear weapons capacity.” Canceling — without replacing the deal with something better — will not serve any goal.
Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/Rosnersdomain.