WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s recently ousted former chief strategist made a bold declaration this week: Don’t count on the president to certify the Iran nuclear deal come the next October deadline.
In his first televised interview since exiting the administration, Stephen Bannon said in a ’60 Minutes’ segment aired Sunday that while the national security establishment is urging Trump to verify Tehran is abiding by the landmark 2015 pact, his old boss is inclined to do otherwise.
“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Bannon told Charlie Rose, when asked about speculation Trump will not dismantle the accord, as Trump often promised he would during the campaign (although he also pledged, at other times, to stringently enforce it).
Under an agreement forged between former president Barack Obama and Congress, the White House is required to report to Capitol Hill every 180 days on whether Iran is honoring the 2015 deal that curbed the Islamic Republic’s enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.
Trump has already certified Iranian compliance twice, once in April and again in July. But he has sent strong signals he won’t do the same when given his next chance this fall.
“I think they’ll be noncompliant,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal in August. “I do not expect that they will be in compliance.” Those remarks came shortly after Foreign Policy reported that he told his aides to develop a case by the next deadline for why the regime has violated the agreement.
Veteran US diplomats and Iran experts expressed deep concern to The Times of Israel last week that maneuvering to decertify the deal when the Iranians are in fact complying could result in calamitous consequences, including damaging America’s credibility and unraveling safeguards that block, at least for the time being, Tehran’s path to developing a nuclear weapon.
But in Washington, rumor has it the White House will not ultimately go that route and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — all of whom convinced Trump not to decertify last time — will convince him to do the same again.
“There’s talk now you may not try to undo the Iran nuclear deal,” Rose told Bannon at one point in the interview.
“Decertify?” Bannon asked.
“I wouldn’t bet on that.”
“But there is talk about that.”
“Definitely talk,” Bannon replied. “The apparatus wants him to certify. President Trump wants to get out of the deal and either go make a better deal or just view it from the outside.”
As a candidate, Trump was highly critical of the deal, often calling it the worst ever negotiated. But he also provided contradictory messages for how he would handle the Iranian challenge.
In his 2016 AIPAC conference address, for instance, Trump said he would both “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran” and “enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable.”
As president, he’s thus far refrained from abrogating the agreement, but did impose new sanctions on multiple Iranian entities and individuals in February after Tehran defied a United Nations Security Council resolution by testing ballistic missiles.
Since leaving his White House post, Bannon returned to Breitbart News, the highly controversial and inflammatory right-wing website, which he ran before joining the Trump campaign in August 2016.