Hawks top doves in political war over Iran deal

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In a virtual war for Washington, hawks triumphed over doves. Today, the president announced he is “decertifying” the Iran deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the Treasury issued an update on Iran Designations.

Decertification is the requirement imposed by a Republican Congress that every 90 days, Obama had to certify the JCPOA was in the national interest, and therefore, the United States was still committed to it.

{mosads}The Iran deal is neither a formal treaty nor an executive agreement; it is an unsigned, nonbinding political commitment. Trump reluctantly certified the deal twice, but this time, he said Iran acted against the spirit of an accord, and it is not in our interest to honor the deal. But decertification will not kill the Iran deal. A middle course of action is what the president took.


The White House issued a fact sheet about Iran Policy. In contrast to the fact sheet issued by Trump Friday is one issued by Obama on April 2, 2015. Trump’s is much tougher on Iran than Obama’s. It favored assumed restraints on the nuclear progress of Iran in a tradeoff for providing sanctions relief to Tehran. By frontloading sanctions relief, Obama boxed in future presidents. President Trump said:

“We will work to deny the Iranian regime — and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — funding for its malign activities and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people.”

Obama downplayed Iran’s economic windfall from sanctions relief. On nuclear issues, he failed to hold Tehran accountable for nuclear violations. On regional challenges, Obama ignored the accord’s negative implications in the Middle East for state sponsorship of terrorism — Iraq, e.g., is becoming a virtual satrap of Iran.

On Oct. 12, NBC News reported CIA Director Mike Pompeo lashed out at Iran and compared it to the Islamic State. On the eve of President Trump’s decision on the certification of the Iran nuclear deal, Pompeo harshly criticized the Islamic Republic in a speech at the University of Texas.

Pompeo called Tehran “a thuggish police state” and a “despotic theocracy, comparing its ambitions to those of ISIS.” The speech, delivered as the keynote at a national security forum in Austin sponsored by the university, is “setting the stage” for the address by Trump on the nuclear agreement, Friday.


On Aug. 6, Josh Rogin wrote that Pompeo agrees with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Council Advisor H.R. McMaster: Iran’s regional threats are the near-term priority. Unlike Tillerson, Pompeo never supported certifying compliance. The Iran deal, if left in place, could be used as a pressure point while upping the ante on those fronts.

Comments about the Trump fact sheet dealt with the topic of what happens when the president decertified the Iran nuclear deal. At issue now was that he sent to Congress “imposing additional sanctions against Tehran.”

Implicitly, Trump relied on constitutional precedents concerning how any president might strengthen the hand of the Oval Office when acting in concert with Capitol Hill.

Consider the June 2, 1952 Supreme Court case, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer.

In concurring with the judgement and opinion of the court, Justice Jackson said: “When the president acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate. In these circumstances, and in these only, may he be said…to personify the federal sovereignty.”

The Backstory

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Pompeo are two leaders in the Trump team. Haley argues a key issue of the verification process has been access to Iran’s military sites because of lack of cooperation of the Iranian regime with the international community. She raised the problem on Sep. 5, 2017:

“For decades, the Iranian military conducted a covert nuclear weapons program — undeclared and hidden from international inspectors. In 2002, Iranian dissidents [the National Council of Resistance of Iran] revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment plant and heavy water reactor — both violations of Iran’s safeguards agreement with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].”

Haley pointed out this secret enrichment plant had been hidden by the Iranian regime “deep inside a mountain, deep inside an IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] base.” Haley’s “biggest concern is that Iranian leaders — the same ones who in the past were caught operating a covert nuclear program at military sites — have stated publicly that they will refuse to allow IAEA inspections of their military sites.”

On July 20, Pompeo said Iran’s implementation of the nuclear deal has been “grudging” and “minimalist.” He stated that Tehran has been using proxy forces to expand its influence in the region and become its “kingpin.”

The Way Forward

The following measures are necessary, per a new book issued to coincide with the address today by President Trump. It is written by NCRI experts, whose findings are consistent with the new Trump strategy: immediate, complete, simultaneous and unfettered inspection of all six sites and centers associated by the IAEA and the full disclosure of the results as soon as possible.

“We [NCRI writers] stress the simultaneity of the inspection of the six sites to preclude any attempt to hide, remove, or sanitize traces relating to illicit nuclear activities. The inspection should include simultaneous and unfettered access to all parts and sections of the large military complexes without limitation.”

So, based on research conducted in preparation for this post, President Trump’s address should do the following: Announce Iran has acted against the spirit of the nuclear accord, e.g., with ballistic missile testing, military interventions in Syria and Yemen and by placing severe pressure on Iraq to bring it under Tehran’s political influence as a virtual satrap.

Hence, President Trump no longer sees it in our interest to honor the Iran deal.

Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR), Ph.D., served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now professor emeritus at University of Michigan.

Tags Foreign relations of Iran Iran nuclear deal framework Iran–United States relations Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Mike Pompeo Mike Pompeo Nikki Haley Nuclear program of Iran Rex Tillerson

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