Trump’s Iran deal withdrawal: It should never have come to this

Now we have the US on one side, Iran on the other, and 5 others in between. Iran will exploit the disunity. But don’t blame Trump for that. Blame the original sin

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he leaves after announcing his decision about the nuclear deal with Iran during a speech from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 8, 2018. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he leaves after announcing his decision about the nuclear deal with Iran during a speech from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 8, 2018. (AFP / SAUL LOEB)

One line in US President Donald Trump’s withering dissection of the 2015 P5+1 negotiators’ inadequate and now tottering agreement with Iran is worth particular attention. “A constructive deal could easily have been struck at the time, but it wasn’t,” said the president, announcing the US withdrawal from the accord on Tuesday.

The Obama administration, chef and champion of the deal, would, obviously, take issue with that assertion. But even if the “easily” is an overstatement, Trump is right. A proper, adequate deal was there for the making. The P5+1 — as in, the Obama administration — failed to make it.

And as the Trump administration must now restart the work that the 2015 deal was supposed to achieve but didn’t, its task will be more complicated than the original mission the previous US administration so signally failed to achieve.

A “constructive deal” — that is, a deal to dismantle Iran’s rogue nuclear program —  could indeed have been struck in the Obama years, when economic pressure had dragged the Iranian regime kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. The ayatollahs feared for their hold on Iran; the West had maximal leverage. The Russians and Chinese would have sought to resist a stringent agreement that put Iran out of the nuclear weapons business for the long term, but a US administration that made plain the top priority it placed on the imperative for an agreement to keep the world’s most dangerous regime from attaining the world’s mass dangerous weapons of mass destruction could have got its way.

Israel, the Little Satan in the ayatollahs’ rapacious sights, could have injected some Middle East nous into the battle of wills, but was kept at a firm distance by the Americans. The only truly dependable ally of the West in this region, with the best intelligence apparatuses, was told to butt out. Worse, we were haughtily informed that since we didn’t know what was in the deal when it was taking shape we shouldn’t be objecting to it, and then, when it was done, we were falsely accused of being opposed to any deal, no matter what it contained.

Then US president Barack Obama, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on November 9, 2015. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Meanwhile, the US-led negotiators were outsmarted and outmaneuvered. The Iranians were let off the hook. The regime got the deal it wanted. And it was entrenched in power — bolder and richer, the better to oppress its people, cause havoc in the region, and keep its eye on the nuclear prize.

Iran is currently threatening that it may resume uranium enrichment and boasting that it has improved its technology so that it can enrich to higher levels than ever before — all while complying with the deal. That tells you all you need to know about the agreement. It did not require Iran to trash all of its centrifuges, and it allowed Iran to continue research and development on enrichment. Good job, negotiators. Well done.

From left, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, and US Secretary of State, John Kerry, after a new round of Nuclear Iran Talks in the Learning Center at the Swiss federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, April 2, 2015 (AP/Keystone, Jean-Christophe Bott, File)

The P5+1’s failure to stop the ayatollahs dead in their would-be nuclear tracks is mirrored by the demonstrably lackadaisical approach of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body charged with policing the deal. How it can allow itself to certify that Iran is complying with the accord when the terms of the deal do not allow it to carry out anytime-anywhere inspections of suspect sites is beyond comprehension. And its response to the Mossad’s astonishing haul of Iran’s own nuclear weapons documentation in the past few days simply beggars belief.

Imagine that your entire life’s work is dedicated to one acutely sensitive area of expertise, that you are constantly hampered by restricted access to your core research material, but that you are nonetheless the world authority in your field. Then imagine that someone else manages, through extraordinary enterprise and courage, to gain access to more core material, much more, than you could ever have imagined existed. And offers to make it available to you.

Would you a) express your profound gratitude and rush to pore over the new discoveries or b) dismiss the material, sight unseen, as irrelevant? No prizes for guessing which course of action the IAEA adopted hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled and began to detail Iran’s own nuclear weapons documentation, spirited out of Tehran from under the noses of the Islamic “We have never sought nuclear weapons” Republic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents Iran’s own documentation of its nuclear weapons program, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Trump’s decision to nix rather than fix the 2015 agreement creates a highly complex new reality. Hitherto, the P5+1 countries, however strained the ties between them, were at least ostensibly lined up together, behind their infirm accord, against the ayatollahs.

Now, we have the US on one side, Iran on the other, and Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia all pulling in slightly different directions in between. Iran can be relied upon to exploit the disunity.

But don’t blame Donald Trump for that. Blame the original sin — a deal that was supposed to dismantle Iran’s rogue nuclear weapons program, but, simply, didn’t.

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