Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif made a somewhat cryptic statement today about the possibility that the Iran deal could be overturned under President Trump. Reuters reports:
“Of course Iran’s options are not limited but our hope and our desire and our preference is for the full implementation of the nuclear agreement, which is not bilateral for one side to be able to scrap,” Zarif told a news conference in Bratislava after meeting his Slovak counterpart Miroslav Lajcak.
The part about the deal not being bilateral makes sense. The Iran deal was a multi-lateral agreement involving Iran, the U.S., plus the other members of the UN security council and Germany. So Zarif is suggesting that it’s not really up to the U.S. to simply decide to undo the deal. That may or not be true but it at least makes sense. But what does “Iran’s options are not limited” mean? Is that a veiled threat to cranking up the nuclear program? Based on a statement by Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, the answer is probably yes. Khamenei warned that if the U.S. ends the deal, “we will light it on fire.” Not too subtle.
Despite all of the posturing from Iran, it’s not actually clear that President-elect Trump intends to tear the deal up. CBS News reports he may be planning to reopen negotiations:
Last summer, Walid Phares, a Trump adviser on the Middle East, said Trump wouldn’t pull out of an agreement with America’s “institutional signature,” but rather revise elements through one-on-one negotiations with Iran or with a larger grouping of allies.
It’s not clear what the goal of any further negotiations would be. And without some sort of clear game plan, would the other partners in the deal go along with rehashing it?
AEI scholar Michael Rubin has suggested the best approach for the new administration to take would be to stop allowing Iran to cheat around the margins and simply hold them to every letter of the agreement they signed:
As flawed as the deal is, Trump should simply implement it as if his concern were putting American interests first rather than deferring to Iranian interests. Iran doesn’t want a military base inspected? Tough. Let Iran walk away from the deal if it objects. Iran is upset that its economy isn’t meeting its own expectations? Well, perhaps they should tackle their own corruption and lack of commercial law rather than expect a Western bailout. Iran violates restrictions on ballistic missile development and heavy water production? Then it is in violation and should suffer the full consequences. Flexibility is not an entitlement…
Trump is right: The JCPOA is flawed and does little to restrain or prevent Iran’s military nuclear ambitions. But that does not mean he should walk away. Rather, he can interpret the deal with such inflexibility as to force Iran to walk away.
That may not be as satisfying to some opponents of the deal but it would probably be a more politically savvy approach to ending it.