Tillerson on nuclear deal: "The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran"

A leftover from yesterday that’s worth watching belatedly, especially in light of Tillerson certifying that Iran is still complying with the terms of the nuclear deal (i.e. the JCPOA). A lot of reporters took that as a hint that the White House plans to reverse course from Trump’s campaign rhetoric and keep the deal intact.

That’s … not how it sounds to me. Quote:

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a grave risk to international peace and security.

It is their habit and posture to use whatever resources they have available to unsettle people and nations…

The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state. This deal represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face from North Korea. The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran..

That’s the tail end of a surprisingly comprehensive five-minute indictment of Iranian behavior from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to its own internal repression of dissent. Digest it and tell me if it doesn’t sound like exactly the sort of thing an administration would say before asking Congress for an AUMF. Not that Trump’s planning to do that — not yet, anyway — but Tillerson’s point in so many words is that there can never be peace with such a regime. So how can the nuclear deal survive, particularly given his comparison to North Korea?

Andrea Mitchell asked him for clarification on that in the Q&A. He was pretty clear:

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, Andrea, I think it’s important in any conversation on the JCPOA – and I think this was one of the mistakes in how that agreement was put together, is that it completely ignored all of the other serious threats that Iran poses, and I just went through a few of those with you. And that’s why our view is that we have to look at Iran in a very comprehensive way in terms of the threat it poses in all areas, of the region and the world, and the JCPOA is just one element of that. And so we are going to review completely the JCPOA itself. As I said, it really does not achieve the objective. It is another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions; we buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later. We just don’t —

QUESTION: So should we break out of it?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We just don’t see that that’s a prudent way to be dealing with Iran, certainly not in the context of all of their other disruptive activities.

Paying the danegeld like Obama did won’t stop the Iranian threat long-term and the Trump administration won’t leave this issue unresolved for a future president. Put those two points together and it sounds like confrontation is inevitable. The deal survives for now, but the status quo is clearly temporary.

Then again, we’ve heard presidents talk tough on Iran before and then watched them turn around and fart away their leverage for nothing more than a short-term reprieve. Tillerson’s statement about cravenly passing the buck to a future administration is aimed squarely at Barack Obama, needless to say.

Pay attention to Mitchell’s question, though, which is a fair one. If the U.S. pulls out of the JCPOA to protest Iran’s international behavior even though the regime is complying with the deal, how will Trump conduct diplomacy with any foreign malefactor? The White House will have proved that America is willing to renege on treaty terms even if the other side is keeping up its end of the bargain. Tear up the deal and you may be committing yourself to a “military or bust” option with problems around the globe.