Trump's Iranian nuclear deal speech ricochets across the Middle East

Trump's Iranian nuclear deal speech ricochets across the Middle East
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President Trump’s Iran strategy speech of Oct. 13 rattled Tehran and excited a large portion of the Iranian population, including the Iranian opposition. Trump’s speech, while going over a long list of Tehran’s nefarious activities, referred to the people of Iran as the main victims of the Iranian regime. He also refrained from certifying that Iran complied with the deal but did not withdraw from the political commitment the major powers and Tehran made to abide by the accord for 10 years from Aug. 2015.

After punting the decision to Congress for 60 days, research conducted for this post suggests Trump should gain congressional support to withdraw from the deal, renegotiate a better accord, and press our allies to adopt a strategy against Iran of renewal of sanctions until the Iranian regime changes its unacceptable behavior.

Showing he was upset, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Trump’s speech against the Islamic Republic was nothing but insults and delirious talk.”

He also stated, “Iran has demonstrated its good will by entering into and its conclusion of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 (permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany with Tehran as a partner) to resolve a fabricated crisis.” But, “United States fulfillment of its commitments has been lackluster and deficient from the very beginning.”

Demonstrating strong approval, the main opposition to the clerical regime’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), welcomed the new U.S. policy, “to condemn and to deny the Iranian regime and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) funding for its malign activities, and oppose its activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people.”

She also said, “the regime “oppresses its people, abuses their rights,” and “exports violence.” And she concluded, “It is time that the international community recognizes the aspirations of the Iranian people and stands with the people of Iran and their legitimate right for regime change.”


The nuclear deal poses a tradeoff of sanctions relief from slowing down the Iranian quest for the bomb. This column focuses on three key provisions of the deal, a document of almost 160 pages: One, a sunset clause (refraining from a breakout for 10 years after the commitment was made among the parties); two, the snapback provision (reimposing sanctions if there is Iranian noncompliance); and, three, international inspections.

Sunset, Breakout, and Sneakout

Tehran can get around the “sunset provision” of refraining from a breakout for 10 years after the commitment was made among the parties to the Aug. 2015 nuclear deal. Iran could purchase a nuclear weapon from Pyongyang and breakout in a matter of weeks.

Mike Singh, of the Washington Institute, wrote in the Wall Street Journal in March of last year, a deal should “leave Iran with less nuclear infrastructure than the U.S. proposes … (and) the ‘sunset clause’ be scrapped.” The clause facilitates a sneakout to Iran’s nuclear sunset, a view shared by Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations in a March 2016 piece in the Washington Post.

The nuclear deal aims to extend time for Iran to create a nuclear bomb. To make one type of nuclear weapon it takes the fissile material, e.g., enriched uranium; weaponization and a trigger, which are necessary for building the bomb; and a miniaturization of the warhead to fit onto the delivery system, e.g., the Shahab-3 missiles or more advanced missiles with longer ranges.

Supporters of the deal say Iran would have been 2 to 3 months away from getting enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb. With the deal, Iran commits not to pursue nuclear weapons overall and faces obstacles if it seeks to break its commitment and pursue a nuclear weapon.

Adversaries of the deal, including the authors of this column, say breaking out or “sneaking out,” is a possible route to get the bomb earlier than anticipated in the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama. The problem now is that there is no inspection of at least 6 sites, primarily military sites, which are engaged in the weaponization and miniaturization part of the program.

The following measures are necessary, per a new book issued to coincide with the address by President Trump. It was written by NCRI experts, who call for, “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.”

Without such measures and in view of the very weak inspection regime, Tehran can secretly enrich uranium using more advanced centrifuges in small facilities, while perfecting its technology for weaponization of fissile material, as it continues to test missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Without such a transformation of Iran, the regime does not belong in the civilized community of nations. Rather, Tehran and Pyongyang remain in the camp of rogue regimes.

Besides Iran, another Islamist regime applying for membership in this exclusive club is present-day Turkey. On Oct. 16, Daniel Pipes penned a piece for The Washington Times, “Saving NATO from Turkey.” He states, “Member states (of NATO) must break with Erdogan’s Islamic extremism.” Pipes is spot on, although such a move carries enormous risks. But with Turkey aiding Iran’s nuclear program, the benefits of considering a break with Turkey might outweigh the dangers. Such gains might be in the form of coercive diplomacy.

Iran’s Transgressions and Way Forward

Matthew Brodsky describes Republicans as coalescing around 2 main political camps regarding the nuclear deal, “Fixers” and “Walkers.”

Both see the Iran deal as fundamentally flawed. Fixers emphasize plugging 3 main holes in the agreement: tightening its verifications loopholes; preventing advancement of the ballistic missile program; and scrapping the sunset clauses, because they are time-based rather than behavior-based.

While Fixers urge President Trump to adopt a “decertify, waive, slap, and fix” approach, Walkers advocate a “wave, slap, and walk” approach: Wave goodbye, slap on sanctions, and walk away. Like Brodsky, we belong to the Walker camp. In this respect, consider Tehran’s misdeeds.

Iran is the top state sponsor of international terrorism; intervenes militarily in Syria and Yemen, and has made Iraq a virtual satrap. None of these three serious misdeeds is prohibited by the present nuclear accord. A way forward is to withdraw from the present deal, renegotiate a better accord, and remove U.S. sanctions against Iran, only as it changes unacceptable behavior.

Because of such transgressions, within 60 days, President Trump should announce Iran has acted against the spirit of the nuclear accord, e.g., with ballistic missile testing, military interventions, continued support for terrorism, as well as placing severe pressure on Iraq to bring it under Tehran’s political influence. Hence, the president would no longer see it in our interest to honor the present Iran deal.

In addition, the terrorist designation of the IRGC must be coupled with an all-out effort on the part of the United States to expel this terror group from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and other countries in the region, as well as condemning its severe violations of human rights. U.S. should also cut off any and all economic deals and financial transactions that would benefit the IRGC and hundreds of its subsidiaries and associate financial institutions in Iran.

This way forward should provide incentives for Iran to moderate, inducements lacking in the present nuclear accord. If Tehran's rulers will not change their behavior, they may face a population eager to change their rulers.

Prof. Raymond Tanter (@AmericanCHR) 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.

Edward Stafford (@egstafford) is a retired foreign-service officer; he served in Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, as a diplomat with the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, and taught at the Inter-American Defense College.