How Trump and Merkel can fix the Iranian nuclear deal

How Trump and Merkel can fix the Iranian nuclear deal
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Just days before President TrumpDonald John TrumpREAD: Transcript of James Comey's interview with House Republicans Klobuchar on 2020: ‘I do think you want voices from the Midwest’ Israel boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate MORE’s scheduled meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington, she told Israel’s Channel 10 TV that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran offers the best hope for containing that country’s nuclear program. Trump now faces the challenge of convincing Merkel that she is half-wrong: The nuclear deal can contain the Iranian nuclear program, but only if its most glaring flaws are fixed.

There is ample evidence to support Trump’s pessimistic view of the deal, including major enforcement failures by Merkel’s own government. 

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Apparently, Merkel is determined to ignore her German intelligence agencies’ most recent reports about Tehran’s efforts to obtain illicit nuclear and chemical technology and its continued work on its atomic program. Last year, the German state of Hamburg’s intelligence agency wrote that “there is no evidence of a complete about-face in Iran’s atomic polices in 2016.” 

The Hamburg report also found that Iran sought missile carrier technology necessary for its rocket program. All together, German intelligence reports have documented that Iran made nearly 40 attempts across the country to illegally obtain military-applicable technology in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, the Iranian regime made “32 procurement attempts ... that definitely or with high likelihood were undertaken for the benefit of proliferation programs,” the state’s intelligence agency wrote last year. Another intelligence report, from the state of Baden-Württemberg, reported that Iran sought “products and scientific know-how for the field of developing weapons of mass destruction as well missile technology.”  

Merkel told Israeli TV that her country will “watch very closely” to ensure that Iran complies with the JCPOA. Yet Iran continues to defy Germany’s lax strictures in Merkel’s own backyard. Take the example of the Baden-Württemberg-based Krempel Group, a firm that sold material to Iranian companies that later turned up in Iranian chemical rockets used in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta. The chemical attacks with the “Made in Germany” technology took place on January 22 and February 1 this year. The gas attacks injured 24 persons, including many children. Germany’s export agency claimed the material was not a dual-use item that can be used for military and civilians purposes. However, Iran deceived the Germans.

Perhaps Merkel believes that Tehran — regarded as the leading state-sponsor of terrorism — can be contained after it contributed to the massive number of war crimes that comprise the Syria regime’s scorched-earth policy of wiping out its own civilians who take issue with the regime. Perhaps she prioritizes Germany’s flourishing export business over international security and human rights. After all, German exports to Iran climbed to 3.5 billion euros in 2017 from 2.6 billion euros in 2016. Economic analysts in Germany predict annual trade will be 10 billion euros in the near future.  

President Trump should encourage Merkel to increase economic leverage on Iran but he should also underscore that if Merkel  refuses to tackle the glaringly flawed accord,  German companies, like all European firms that do business with sanctioned entities in Iran, will face secondary sanctions in the U.S. market.

The Merkel administration has shown no meaningful movement in remedying Trump’s major concerns about the Iran agreement in its current, dangerous form. The deal allows the sun to set on the agreement in less than ten years, at which time Iran will, unlike before the agreement was reached in 2015, be able to legally enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, without limit. The lack of unfettered surprise inspections of all of Iran’s military sites where the IAEA thinks that there is nuclear weapons-related work taking place is another significant deficiency of the deal. Lastly, Iran’s missiles can reach Europe, and there are no restrictions in the JCPOA on its rocket program.  

President Trump has outlined a plan to address Iranian malign activities beyond the nuclear agreement. For example, the U.S. administration has pushed Berlin to designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist entity. Hezbollah, Iran’s chief strategic proxy in the Middle East, infused with Iranian cash from the Iran deal, has helped Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad execute war crimes against the Syrian population.  

The U.S., Canada, the Arab League, the Netherlands and Israel have all classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and Hezbollah does not regard itself as bifurcated as the EU does.

While Germany and the EU have banned Hezbollah’s so-called “military wing” from operation in their jurisdictions, they refuse to proscribe Hezbollah’s entire organization as a terrorist entity. Hezbollah’s 950 members in Germany are allowed to fundraise and recruit operatives in the Federal Republic. And they are a potential source of support for Hezbollah’s European criminal enterprise. While designation of Hezbollah is not required by the JCPOA, Germany could signal to the United States that it is willing to address Iranian-backed terrorism, a move that may help persuade Trump it is a serious partner in addressing Iran’s malign activities and which may help persuade Trump to fix, not nix the nuclear deal.

Bizarrely, during the U.S. talks with French, British and German officials on how to improve the nuclear deal, the Germans said that they don’t want to outlaw all of Hezbollah because banning the terrorist organization, they said, should be part of Israel-PLO talks. 

In addition to outlawing Hezbollah’s full organization within European territory, Trump wants the Europeans to cut off funding to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its militant proxies, and anyone else who contributes to Iran’s support for terrorism. 

Merkel must choose between allowing a dangerous regime in Tehran to obtain a patient pathway to a nuclear weapon, or working with the Trump administration to save the nuclear accord by fixing its many serious flaws. We urge our ally to choose the latter.

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies where Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy. Follow them on Twitter @benweinthal and @tobydersh.