Remember this old joke? Q: How do you keep a fool in suspense? A: I’ll let you know. Donald Trump apparently remembers it, teasing reporters with a statement of having reached a decision on whether to remain in the Iran deal while keeping everyone else on tenterhooks:
President Trump tells reporters that he’s made a decision on the Iran Deal: “I’ll let you know.” https://t.co/nmGZZ40YTU
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 20, 2017
So when will we know? Realistically speaking, Trump has almost four weeks before he has to make an official determination of non-compliance. The deadline for the next report to Congress is October 13th, and there’s no real reason to go public before that. Doing so might limit his options with allies who will need to back his play in order to have any leverage at all with Iran.
And right now, prospects for leverage do not look good at all, not even after Trump’s fiery denunciation of Iran at the UN yesterday:
“The JCPOA is the best current option,” Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in an interview, referring to the accord formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “It’s not perfect but it’s the best current option.” …
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman James Slack told reporters in New York that she met Wednesday morning with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani “and she reiterated the importance of the deal.”
The most direct rebuttal to Trump came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said in his UN speech Tuesday that the Iran agreement is “robust” and “to put it into question without anything to replace it is a grave error.”
That was an ominous sign for Tillerson’s efforts because proponents of toughening the deal had pointed to France as the country least satisfied with the accord when it was reached and most likely to get on board for changes. But the French government has changed since then.
Trump can still go it alone, of course, but don’t expect much impact if he does. The only sanction with bite to apply in that case would be to lock anyone dealing with Iran out of the US banking system, which would necessarily include some of these same allies and might end up eroding our dominance in international banking. There’s zero chance of getting the UN Security Council to reverse course on the agreement, especially since its own IAEA reports compliance — mainly because the IAEA won’t ask to inspect military sites, knowing Iran will refuse.
In remarks earlier today, Nikki Haley suggested that Trump’s tough talk shouldn’t be taken as an indication of his decision:
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s criticism of the Iran deal doesn’t mean he plans to exit the agreement
“It’s not a clear signal he plans to withdraw. What it is is a clear signal that he’s not happy with the deal and that the United States is not safer because of it,” she said on “CBS This Morning.” …
And when asked about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s criticism of US reneging on the deal, Haley said he needs to “start following the rules.”
“I think what he needs to do is instead of leaving the agreement, he’s needs to start following the rules,” she said. “He’s not keeping up with his end of the deal. So what he’s trying to do is put it on us, but we have to keep it on him.”
If that’s the strategy, then Trump will never leave the deal. It seems both sides are trying to get the other to renege on the agreement first — and if so, Trump’s tough talk at the UN might have been an attempt to bait Hassan Rouhani and the mullahs into exiting the pact. That would put enormous pressure on our allies to snap back all of the sanctions, but … so far Rouhani isn’t taking the bait.