White House considers early exit from Iran nuclear deal

  • 18 September 2017
  • NormanL
White House considers early exit from Iran deal

According to news reports, the President is considering ending the Iran nuclear deal ahead of schedule, with some of his former staffers arguing that he needs to keep his campaign promise to scrap the Obama-era agreement:

The president faces pressure to fulfill his campaign promise to end the Iran nuclear agreement, which he has called the "worst deal ever negotiated." Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal requires the State Department to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is still complying with the agreement under the terms ironed out by the Obama administration in 2015.

Some top Trump aides have urged the president to preserve the Iran deal at the next 90-day mark in October. H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have cautioned Trump against scrapping the JCPOA despite his deep skepticism of the agreement, a source familiar with the talks told the Washington Examiner.

But others close to the president have urged him to follow through on his threats to dismantle the deal and have attempted to craft a new strategy for dealing with Iran in the event Trump ends the JCPOA.

Sebastian Gorka, former strategist to the president, said Trump resisted the recertification process at the most recent 90-day deadline in July, when he requested more information from his aides about how he could end the agreement.

"The president didn't want it recertified last time," Gorka told the Washington Examiner.

The former White House adviser, who stepped down last month, suggested Trump did not undo the Iran deal this summer only because he had not yet received from his team a set of satisfying alternatives to the agreement.

"Last time, he didn't do it because he hadn't been given an adequate path, the scenario hadn't been provided to him" to decertify the deal, Gorka said.

But soon after Trump requested a draft plan to dismantle the Iran deal, Gorka said he and another top aide tasked with overseeing the creation of the plan, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon left the West Wing and were unable to pass on their findings to the president.

"Those options were never presented to him because of Steve's resignation and my resignation," Gorka said.

Bannon had enlisted the help of at least one outside adviser to give Trump options should he choose to exit the Iran deal.

That outside adviser is former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. Bolton wrote a memo on how the administration could exit the agreement, which was published in National Review. In the memo, Bolton says:

This effort should be the Administration’s highest diplomatic priority, commanding all necessary time, attention, and resources. We can no longer wait to eliminate the threat posed by Iran. The Administration’s justification of its decision will demonstrate to the world that we understand the threat to our civilization; we must act and encourage others to meet their responsibilities as well.

But what are the mechanics of pulling out of the Iran deal? The Congressional Research Service issued a briefing paper on that topic. While the paper makes no judgment on whether the U.S. should withdraw, it does go into the weeds to discover how a withdrawal might occur, and what the potential consequences could be, including how sanctions may be reimposed on Iran.

This issue has taken a back seat to North Korea which, unlike Iran, is lobbing missles into the sea and promising even greater mayhem if its activities are stopped. But with the White House now thinking of pulling out -- and doing so quickly -- it's worth your time to get familiar with the issues, the policy mechanics, and the politics.