Deadline: Trump to keep Iran deal in place?

Will Donald Trump finally take the opportunity to end Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, as he has long advocated? Today’s the day we’ll find out, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters yesterday without tipping his hand one way or the other:

Trump has gotten a lot of pushback from both allies and in his own administration against the idea of pulling out of the deal. The Washington Post reported this morning that Trump will most likely keep the deal in place and put pressure on Iran through other means:

Trump’s top national security advisers met with him Thursday at the White House. Announcement of the decision was expected later Friday. If those sanctions are reimposed, the United States would automatically violate the deal brokered by Trump’s predecessor that lifted the sanctions in exchange for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear development program.

“You’re going to be finding out very soon,” Trump said Thursday when asked about Iran. “You’ll be finding that out very soon.”

U.S. officials and others have said Trump is expected to accept the recommendation of senior advisers that he keep the old nuclear-related sanctions suspended, while announcing new ones that would target other aspects of Iran’s behavior such as mass arrests during anti-government protests this month. Those types of sanctions are not covered under the agreement the United States and other world powers reached with Iran in 2015, and President Barack Obama also imposed additional non-nuclear sanctions on Iran after the deal was implemented.

According to multiple news reports, Trump made the decision late yesterday to extend the Iran deal again. The pressure from other Western nations probably played a significant role in the decision. They made it clear last night that they will not come along on any effort to reopen the negotiations or reapply old sanctions resolved under the agreement:

Three of Washington’s closest European allies urged the Trump administration not to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal, with U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson saying opponents of the agreement have shown no better alternative to stop Iran developing its nuclear program.

Speaking ahead of an expected announcement from the Trump administration this week on whether it will keep sanctions on Iran suspended in line with the 2015 deal, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday appealed to U.S. allies to “scrupulously abide by” its commitments. …

On Thursday morning, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the U.K., as well as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

European governments have strongly supported the Iranian nuclear deal and insisted they will abide by it whatever the Trump administration decides. Senior European officials have said in recent days they are hopeful President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized the deal, will sign the sanctions waivers but they aren’t certain what the decision will be.

This puts the US in a jam even worse than Obama’s deal left us in the first place. Don’t forget that almost all of the benefit for Iran in this deal came up front — the releasing of $150 billion in assets, the “pallets of cash” flown to Tehran, and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions. No matter what we do now, Iran already has its payment for the agreement to delay building its nuclear weapons for a decade at the most, assuming they’re following the agreement at all, which is something the deal prevents us from fully verifying.

Pulling out now would only allow us to reimpose the sanctions, not claw back all of the up-front concessions that have already gone to the mullahs. If our Western partners refuse to cooperate on reimposing sanctions, we’ll end up with nothing at all for scotching the deal, except for the moral clarity that would allow us to stop pretending that Iran’s not building nukes. At this point, we’re stuck.

However, that doesn’t mean we can’t craft new sanctions as Iran continues to act provocatively. The recent crackdown on dissent in Iran gives us a good opening for that approach. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters yesterday that he’s “expecting new sanctions on Iran” sometime today, but didn’t get any more specific than that. Expect Trump to encircle the nuclear deal with enough sanctions over time that the mullahs will feel the economic pinch — and their people will grow even more frustrated with the regime. That’s about all we can do at this point, thanks to Obama and the allies who wanted a short-term political victory more than long-term security.