State Department: Yes, Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal

Does this mean Trump will preserve the deal? Or is he still intent on ripping it up? I’m not sure either approach could be called a flip-flop because, er, he held both positions during the campaign.

In a statement released by the State Department, Tillerson said Iran is making good on its commitment under the agreement, but added that President Donald Trump has ordered a review of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

In the letter addressed to Congress, Tillerson asserted that “Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods.”

“President Donald J. Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” the statement reads.

In other words, because Iran continues to support terrorism (and always will under the current regime, natch) Trump may decide to reinstate sanctions notwithstanding Iran’s compliance with its nuclear obligations. That would place the United States, not Iran, in violation of the nuclear agreement, and the European parties to the agreement will point to that when they inevitably decline to reinstate sanctions on Iran themselves. (Why punish Shiite terrorists for America’s breach of contract?) Thank Obama for putting the U.S. in a predicament where we’re the bad actor if we decide to cut off money to a terror state that’s engaged in sectarian cleansing in Syria and remains on track to become a nuclear power — legally — by the end of the next decade.

The nice thing about this from the White House’s perspective, I guess, is that it buys them extra time to settle on a course of action. If State had declared that Iran isn’t complying, Trump’s hand would have been forced. And yet:

[S]ome in the White House are grumbling the decision amounts to a recertification of the Iran deal, driven almost entirely by Foggy Bottom and despite evidence Iran is taking advantage of sanctions relief to do exactly what the deal required it to do: stop pursuing nuclear weapons capability.

Lotta Iran hawks around the president these days, don’t forget. Maybe they wanted a little pressure on Trump to make up his mind about what to do.

Presumably the White House is going to slow-walk its review of the nuclear deal while it’s still feeling its way in Syria, as a potential point of leverage over Iran. Once ISIS is expelled from Raqqa and the administration turns its attention to Assad and a peace deal, threatening to reinstate sanctions could be used to try to pressure Iran into more favorable terms. The interesting question is what happens if Iran calls America’s bluff, Trump breaks the deal, and then Iran begins aggressively enriching uranium again. Would the Europeans threaten to reinstate sanctions themselves to try to deter Iran from going nuclear or would they wring their hands and blame Washington for instigating the brinksmanship?

Eh. I’m sure we can manage a war with Iran while we’re fighting one with North Korea. Still a few boxes left to check in the Axis of Evil!