What Trump's Iran decision really means

President Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal may or may not accomplish anything with that rogue nation’s ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction and sow regional rebellion. But it certainly hands Congress a very hot falafel.


It’s a similar move to Trump earlier this year handing over to Congress the DACA mess, aimed at deporting the grown children of illegal immigrants. ‘Here, I did my part, you guys handle throwing these folks out.’

Both moves allow Trump to check off two more campaign promises. He’s called the Obama administration’s nuclear pact with Iran the worst deal in history. And predicted to the United Nations recently: “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.

Knowing the fate of his Iran deal, Obama refused to submit it to Congress, as the Constitution requires of treaties. In reply, Congress required that a president certify every 90 days that Iran is “transparently, verifiably and fully implementing the agreement.” Trump chafed at previous certifications this year.

But sending it to Congress now is actually a compromise within the administration between junking the pact and walking away, which would simply free Iran to resume full-scale weapons development, and falsely certifying Iran’s full compliance.

Pentagon officials have said Iran is not in “material” breach of the pact. But in Trump’s eyes, Iran’s export of terrorism must be stopped, though it’s not clearly not part of the pact. And Trump doesn’t like the sunset provision that lets Iran resume development no matter what in 10 years.


Congress is now left with the radioactive decision to snap back sanctions and free Iran from any compliance or leaving the pact untouched, despite years of harsh GOP criticism.

Trump’s decision actually does little but merely start a 60-day clock for Congress to decide to leave the pact despite allied concerns, order renegotiation, which Iran has promised to reject, or quite likely mire itself in yet another of the now familiar series of procedural feuds signifying the inability of argumentative Republican majorities to act like majorities.

Renewed U.S. economic sanctions would have greatly reduced effect without mutual European compliance. That’s unlikely given billions in new business launched by European companies.

Iran is positioned to lose basically nothing. Obama agreed to front-loading most of Iran’s benefits, including payment of $150 billion. So, Iran could potentially be free of the pact’s limits, keep its booming new business with Europe and have no incentive to curtail its terrorism funding.

One little-discussed aspect of the Iran deal’s future is it will, in effect, set a precedent for any possible future talks and agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. Its nuclear weapons program and ICBM delivery systems are much farther along than Iran’s.


Without mentioning by name the Iran deal or North Korea’s de facto nuclear arming, Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly commented on the situation at a news briefing Thursday:

I don’t mean any criticism to Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but there is an awful lot of things that were, in my view, kicked down the road that have come home to roost, pretty much right now, that have to be dealt with.

The road stretches on.

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Jazz Shaw 5:21 PM on September 27, 2023
John Sexton 3:20 PM on September 27, 2023