Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, released the following statement in response to tonight’s State of the Union address:
“President Trump’s first year in office was spent dividing our union and undermining American credibility abroad. Far from taking actions to restrain a President woefully unfit for the job and dedicated to discriminatory and un-American policies like the Muslim ban, Congress has aided and abetted Trump. The American people, including the Iranian-American community, will remember those legislators who have defended Trump’s disgraceful policies and then stood and applauded him tonight. They will also remember those who criticized Trump’s actions on the sidelines but refused to challenge him when it really counted.
“Trump’s words of praise for the Iranian people were once again utterly hollow. Only a President without any conscience could praise the very people he is banning. Trump should drop the ban, but if he is too attached to his bigotry to do so, he should at least stop pretending to be a friend of the Iranian people.
“Trump once again reminded Congress that the buck stops with them on the Iran nuclear deal and broader areas of concern with Iran. But Congress cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a multilateral agreement without violating its terms. Moreover, there is already a blueprint of success on issues of concern with Iran: serious, multilateral negotiations aimed at mutual compromise. Unfortunately, Trump has shown outright disdain for this successful approach, with the administration having zero communication with Iran outside of what is required by the nuclear accord.
“Trump, of course, neglected to mention that Iran is complying with the nuclear accord and that international inspectors in Iran are implementing the most robust verification regime in the world thanks to the nuclear deal. Congress should continue to abstain from any action that would push the U.S. into violation of the accord, while also undertaking steps to pressure the administration to recommit to fully abide by all the terms of the deal. There is no excuse for Members of Congress to be an accomplice to Trump’s undermining of an accord that is forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon and war with Iran over its nuclear program – otherwise, they will share the blame for the accord’s collapse.”
In March 2015, the junior Senator from Arkansas ― Tom Cotton ― was derided for writing a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader in the midst of sensitive negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, warning that any deal with Iran could be revoked by the next U.S. President “with the stroke of a pen.” The letter, signed by 46 of his colleagues, was unprecedented, helping to blur the lines between partisan politics and serious national security matters and potentially delivering a fatal blow to the notion that politics stops at the water’s edge. It provoked a strong outcry, with many casting the letter as traitorous and Cotton as in over his head. Few could imagine, however, that by today Cotton would be poised to become the next potential director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under a President even more committed to laying waste to the norms of Washington, Donald Trump.
As bad as the Trump administration has been, it can always get worse. And that is precisely what will happen if the Trump administration follows through with a reported plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and nominate Tom Cotton to take Pompeo’s old position. Both Cotton, a protege of Iraq war champion Bill Kristol who received nearly a million dollars from Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel in his 2014 Senate campaign, and Pompeo, a former Tea Party Congressman from Kansas until his elevation to CIA Director earlier this year, have been pioneers in blurring the lines between political hackery and national security, a terrifying notion for the potential chief diplomat and a top spymaster. If the moves are finalized, Cotton and Pompeo will do untold damage to U.S. national security, and their first order of business will almost certainly be to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and lay the groundwork for a disastrous war with Iran.
Pompeo and Cotton are close ideological allies on foreign policy, having worked closely to undermine President Obama’s negotiations and later prevent the Iran nuclear deal from surviving Congressional review. In 2014, the two spoke to reporters on the Iran negotiations, with Cotton saying “I hope that Congress’ role will be to put an end to these negotiations.” If there was any doubt what their alternative to negotiations was, Pompeo clarified “In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”
Time did little to sober Cotton and Pompeo’s hawkishness on Iran. After the nuclear deal had been finalized that summer, Cotton and Pompeo traveled to Vienna to review the International Atomic Energy Agency’s plan to finalize its long-running investigation into prior, possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program. While such plans are routinely kept confidential in order to ensure that the inspected state’s security is not in any way compromised, the pair of hawks spun that technical plan into a nefarious, “secret side deal” they alleged the administration was withholding from the American public. Nothing could be further from the truth, but Cotton and Pompeo used their hyping of the facts to further their campaign against the deal.
Cotton downplayed military action against Iran again in August of 2015, stating “I don’t think any military expert in the United States or elsewhere would say the U.S. military is not capable to setting Iran’s nuclear facilities back to day zero.” Of course, there is a difference between capabilities and what is in the national interest, and many have warned that Iran could quickly reconstitute its program after bombing and move quickly toward a nuclear weapon. Cotton seemed to have recognized this, though the notion of repeatedly bombing Iran – known in hawkish circles as “mowing the lawn” ― did not seem to bother him. “Can we eliminate it (Iran’s nuclear program) forever? No, because any advanced industrialized country can develop nuclear weapons in four to seven years, from zero. But we can set them back to day zero.”
Add to this atrocious track record several other notable efforts from the duo to undermine the Iran nuclear deal during the Trump administration. Pompeo’s last tweet prior to being nominated as CIA Director declared “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.” Pompeo vowed in his confirmation as CIA Director to halt his political efforts to sabotage the deal, which he later backtracked on. In his confirmation, he vowed “While as a Member of Congress I opposed the Iran deal, if confirmed, my role will change. It will be to drive the Agency to aggressively pursue collection operations and ensure analysts have the time, political space, and resources to make objective and methodologically sound judgments.”
But once on the job, Pompeo made it his pet project to release documents to a hawkish Washington organization in an effort to tie Iran to al-Qaeda, quite literally copying the playbook for the Iraq War. Pompeo also emerged as one of the prime voices urging the President to make the political decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal. As reported by Foreign Policy in July, “Although most of Trump’s deputies endorsed certifying that Iran was abiding by the deal, one senior figure has emerged in favor of a more aggressive approach — CIA Director Mike Pompeo. At White House deliberations, the former lawmaker opposed certifying Iran while suggesting Congress weigh in on the issue, officials and sources close to the administration said.” Given that the IAEA has routinely certified Iran’s compliance, such a position was far from Pompeo’s vow that his role would change ― he was still trying to kill the deal, though this time not in Congress, but at the President’s ear.
Who else joined Pompeo’s efforts to push Trump into killing the deal? None other than his pal Tom Cotton, who laid out the case for withholding certification in July in a letter with three of his colleagues. Of course, that letter was full of falsehoods, but that’s par for the course for the man who may be Trump’s next CIA Director. Like his colleague Pompeo, there is little reason to expect Cotton to drop his Iran campaign once he earns a place in the administration.
What of the man that Pompeo would replace, Rex Tillerson? It is indisputable that Tillerson has been a disaster on many fronts, in particular, his campaign to gut the State Department which will do untold damage to American diplomacy for years to come. Yet, on the Iran nuclear deal, Tillerson has actually allied with Secretary of Defense James Mattis to urge Trump against ripping up the deal. The loss of Tillerson, combined with Cotton’s elevation, would mean that Pompeo and Cotton could face little resistance in their campaign to unravel a nuclear accord that is working and downplay the likely alternative ― war.
It’s possible that the reporting is inaccurate and that Cotton will not be elevated to Pompeo’s current position. But if it is, the Trump administration will be a giant step closer towards killing the nuclear deal and taking the US into yet another war of choice in the Middle East. Unless, of course, the American public ― including Trump’s own base ― massively rallies against such folly.
Washington DC – “It would lead to the noncompliance of the JCPOA,” warned Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) of a new bill (H.R. 4324) targeting the sale of aircraft to Iran under the nuclear deal. “[T]he U.S. has committed to allow commercial passenger aircraft sales to Iran. This particular bill imposes additional requirements that could lead us to failing to meet that obligation.”
Rep. Ellison’s remarks were during a Congressional markup of two Iran bills in the House Financial Services Committee, both of which appear intended to undercut the Iran nuclear deal. Supporters of the accord raised strong objections during the markup, but the “Strengthening Oversight of Iran’s Access to Finance Act” (H.R. 4342) passed 38-21 and the “Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act” (H.R. 1638) passed 43-16. The bills next move to the House floor, where they are likely to pass. However, similar legislation has not previously been passed by the Senate, so it is possible that the bills will not become law.
Under the accord, the U.S. is obligated to “allow for the sale of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services to Iran,” including through the licensing of financial institutions to engage in such sales. This key provision provides substantial humanitarian benefits to the people of Iran, as Iran will be able to replace its aging and accident-prone air fleet. The accord would enable the U.S. to cancel the licensing of aircraft if Iran uses those licensed aircraft for non-civilian purposes.
However, H.R. 4324 would seek to cancel the licensed sale of aircraft on grounds separate from what is permissible under the JCPOA. The bill mandates reporting on whether the licenses benefit any person that has provided transportation services or material support for an individual on U.S. sanctions lists. If the administration is unable to make the certification, a likely scenario given the probability that Iranian airlines service individuals on U.S. sanctions lists, H.R. 4324 would push the administration to cancel the licenses. This would result in a clear U.S. violation of the accord.
The bill’s author, Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX), nevertheless urged passage stating “It’s about being careful of a country that wants to destroy America.”
However, several additional JCPOA supporters voiced objections. Rep. Dennis Heck (D-WA) warned “[t]his is in fact only the latest attack on a core U.S. obligation under the JCPOA…This bill attempts to both name and shame banks that are participating in transactions.” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the ranking member of the committee, used deal opponents’ logic against them, stating “It’s clear that these sales get Iran to spend tens of billions of dollars on western commercial aircraft, and not missile development, military personnel, or weapons. Directing Iran’s spending away from these things is a plus for U.S. national security, as hawks who worry very much about Iranian windfall, should recognize.”
The second bill, H.R. 1638, is nearly identical to a bill introduced in 2016 (H.R. 5461) that received a veto threat from the Obama administration. While proponents have argued that the measure would increase the transparency of Iranian leaders’ assets, the Obama administration warned that the bill would have diverted needed resources from the Department of Treasury, led to less transparency and undermined the JCPOA.
Rep. Waters noted the irony of Republicans focusing on releasing the financial assets of Iran’s leaders when the American people continue to have concerns regarding President Trump’s own financial assets. “I do believe that if we truly are interested in transparency and making information public, it would be nice to start here at home and find out what this president controls,” she said. Waters also noted that the bill’s goal of “enlightenment” would likely fail given the “profound trust gap between the United States and Iran,” which would render it susceptible to charges of propaganda.
In defending the bill, Rep Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) argued that “We need to stay on offense as a country. On offense. And part of that is to interrupt the flow of funding to countries that want to harm us.” He suggested that the U.S. should deter businesses from engaging in permissible business with Iran, which would be a clear violation of the accord. “If it prevents me from transacting business so there’s less investment in a country that wants to kill us, has blood on their hands, good,” he argued.
Rep. Ellison also warned that H.R. 1638 would backfire, suggesting that Iranian leaders targeted by the bill “will just go deeper in and we’ll know less” about their financial assets. Ellison also noted that in similar legislation introduced last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that much of the reporting required by the bill would be classified, doing little to enlighten the Iranian people about their leaders’ finances.
Washington, DC – On Oct. 13, President Trump decertified the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in what many viewed as the first step towards tearing up the agreement. Instead of reimposing sanctions and violating the deal himself, however, Trump called on Congress to dictate new terms for the nuclear accord via legislation and vowed to terminate the deal if Congress did not do so. Notably, Trump did not call on Congress to snap back nuclear sanctions under expedited procedure triggered by his recertification. Instead, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bob Corker (R-TN) began circulating legislation in line with Trump’s vision that would eventually snap back nuclear sanctions and end U.S. participation in the deal even if Iran maintains full compliance with the agreement. Yet, three weeks after Trump’s big speech, the Cotton-Corker legislation has yet to be introduced.
At a conference hosted by the Ploughshares Fund last week, a former official and two Senators warned against legislation undercutting the JCPOA. Colin Kahl, former Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor to the Vice President, said the Cotton-Corker bill “would outline a series of automatic triggers for re-imposing nuclear-related sanctions that were suspended under the JCPOA in the event that Iran engages in certain types of behavior that we don’t like, but isn’t technically proscribed by the Iran deal.” Mr. Kahl followed by saying the Cotton-Corker legislation will be seen as a “unilateral effort to renegotiate the terms of the deal,” by the other parties to the deal.
Flipping the situation on its head, Kahl asked the audience what the U.S. response would be to Iran suddenly declaring that they would pull out of the agreement if the U.S. didn’t withdraw its forces from the region, citing a “threat to regional peace and security.” Kahl stated that such a demand would rightly be perceived as a threat to violate the deal by Iran. “It’s an important thought experiment because that’s exactly how the rest of the world will perceive the current Corker-Cotton legislation,” Kahl concluded.
Sen. Van Hollen (D-MD) also weighed in on the Cotton-Corker legislation, stating during his address that if unchanged from the current “bootleg” copies that have been circulating on Capitol Hill, the legislation “will essentially be calling for the violation of the agreement because they would be calling for number one, imposing the Iran sanctions on non-nuclear related conduct, and number two, they would be extending the sunset provisions that had been negotiated in the bill.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated her trepidation about legislative efforts to undercut the JCPOA. “With respect to Iran, it’ll take 60 votes in the Senate to make a change. I am hopeful that those votes are not there, and I am hopeful that we will stand by this agreement.”
The two Senators also warned about the threat of Trump following through on his threat to terminate the JCPOA. “If you tear up an agreement, you sunset everything right now,” Sen. Van Hollen stated. “Iran would have no obligation to do anything more under the agreement.” He continued, saying that the U.S. would be isolating itself if it walked away from the JCPOA, and that dealing with a non-nuclear Iran on regional issues is better than dealing with a nuclear-armed Iran.
Feinstein warned, “If the United States cannot continue to be part of a multilateral agreement – which for sure takes Iran out of the nuclear business for a long, long time – how will North Korea ever believe us in any agreement we might make with them?”
This week, Tess Bridgeman – former Special Assistant to President Obama and Deputy Legal Adviser to the National Security Council – also warned against the Cotton-Corker bill in Foreign Policy, saying “Our most fundamental commitment in the JCPOA is that we will continue to suspend our nuclear-related sanctions, and not impose new ones, so long as Iran continues to abide by its nuclear commitments, as verified by international monitors. By Corker and Cotton’s own description, their bill would automatically re-impose our nuclear sanctions even if Iran is continuing to comply with its commitments — this violates the deal.”
While there appears to be little momentum behind the Cotton-Corker legislation, particularly among Democratic Senators, negotiations reportedly continue behind the scenes.
Now that US President Donald Trump has decertified Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — despite all evidence to the contrary — much attention has been focused on the reverberations in Washington and within the Transatlantic alliance. No less important, however, are the emerging policy ramifications in Tehran. Contrary to assertions at home and conjecture abroad, Trump’s Iran policy may in the long run strengthen rather than weaken President Hassan Rouhani’s administration in several key ways.
First, Iranian stakeholders are now more united as a result of US threats, thereby solidifying the executive branch within Iran’s political system. Trump’s choice to decertify has reinforced the strategic vision offered by Rouhani and agreed to by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after the 2013 presidential election: to maintain unity on policy toward the United States, (nuclear) deal or no deal. This vision was predicated on eliminating the diplomatic and financial isolation that plagued Iran from 2005 to 2013. Whatever their differences, Khamenei needs Rouhani and his technocrats to repair the damage wrought by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani needs Khamenei to provide political protection while he does so.
Since entering office four years ago, Rouhani has maintained arguably the most diverse and inclusive political coalition in the 38-year history of the Islamic Republic. The infighting will not subside anytime soon, but the survival instinct of most elites has kicked in, helping them recognize the need to deepen the middle ground that Rouhani has been cultivating. In nine months, the Trump administration has managed to spur a level of political unity and rally-around-the-flag nationalism not seen in Iran since the immediate aftermath of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s subsequent invasion.
Rouhani may also be strengthened because such unity has been a linchpin in the approach he has been advocating for the past 15 years and outlined in his 2011 memoir, “National Security and Nuclear Diplomacy.” In the book, he defends using that approach during his stewardship of Iran’s 2003-2005 nuclear negotiations with Europe because all decisions were made by consensus, with Khamenei’s endorsement. He criticizes subsequent negotiating teams for repeatedly miscalculating and abandoning his strategy of internal consensus-building and blames them for the polarization in Iran’s foreign and domestic politics that threaten to destabilize the country. Each of Rouhani’s criticisms have proven true — and Khamenei approved each of those mistakes, reinforcing Rouhani’s political standing.
Second, Trump’s hostile approach may help shore up Rouhani’s domestic standing because it vindicates the strategy employed to achieve Iran’s national interests both from 2003 to 2005 and 2013 to the present. In his memoir, Rouhani says his approach toward handling the nuclear dispute had three facets: cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to address the violations noted in Iran’s nuclear file, engaging with Europe to improve relations and neutralize American aggression and pursuing both of those objectives to allow for Iranian nuclear scientists to continue different aspects of their work.
Rouhani’s strategy worked in the early 2000s. It helped thwart the threat of war after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, and his team successfully prevented the referral of Iran’s nuclear file to the UN Security Council. An updated version of the same strategy has proven successful since Rouhani’s election in 2013. The JCPOA removed Iran’s nuclear file from Chapter VII in the UN Security Council without the country being bombed — a first — and it appears to be serving as a bulwark against Trump’s aggression given that Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the UN, the European Union and the IAEA all currently oppose US policy.
Rouhani sold his nuclear strategy to Khamenei by arguing that Tehran’s openness to negotiations and compromise would put the onus on Washington to accept the Islamic Republic accordingly. In turn, Khamenei sold the nuclear talks inside and outside the government by arguing that such engagement means the onus will be on the United States to compromise.
Thus, Rouhani — and by extension, Khamenei — is vindicated regardless of whether the JCPOA remains intact. If it dies, neither Khamenei nor the Iranian people will blame Rouhani, because he can accurately pin the blame on Washington. Conversely, neither Rouhani nor the Iranian people will blame Khamenei for the same reason.
Finally, while the long-term impact may be to strengthen Rouhani, it should be noted that Trump’s bombast might complicate the Iranian president’s agenda in the short run. US escalation of tensions will likely securitize the atmosphere in Iran, thereby slowing down political and economic development — similarly to 2005-2013, when tensions with the United States spiked. At that time, key stakeholders justified empowering the military-security apparatus as a necessary instrument to counter threats to the Islamic Republic’s survival. As senior Iranian officials told Al-Monitor back then, Tehran invested more money into security and intelligence operations, with such budget allocations ballooning and new projects proliferating. Such a thing would likely not have happened under normal circumstances, as demonstrated by how Rouhani successfully shifted the Iranian state’s priority to domestic economic stabilization during his first term. However, in the long run, it would be an exaggeration to associate securitization with Rouhani being a lame duck. His domestic agenda may be curtailed, but that’s in large part because it’s now more difficult for him to argue internally that additional funding for security purposes is unnecessary.
Thus, the biggest loser right now is not Rouhani, but rather the Iranian people. Trump shifting the onus back to the United States could allow Iranian officials to successfully blame foreign bogeymen for the Islamic Republic’s economic shortcomings — and divert the public’s attention from the government’s role in causing them. While disillusionment among ordinary Iranians will grow, Trump’s bluster has ensured that most vitriol will be directed at decision-makers in Washington rather than Tehran — precisely because Rouhani’s strategy has succeeded.
For nearly four decades, the United States has tried to isolate Iran. But after nine months of Trump in office, it is the United States that seems isolated. Decertifying Iranian compliance with the JCPOA is only the latest instance of Tehran capitalizing on Washington’s self-inflicted wounds. Rouhani has been proven right that Iran and his own political standing are more secure thanks to less bombast, deeper unity, better negotiators, more diplomacy and a realistic assessment of the Islamic Republic’s policy strengths and weakness both at home and abroad. If Trump forges ahead with his confrontational posturing, he will likely empower rather than weaken the very politicians he’s trying to undermine.
Washington, (D.C.) – “What the President is telling Congress is ‘let’s violate the deal together or I’ll violate it alone,” said Robert Malley, discussing President Trump’s speech announcing the decertification of the Iran nuclear deal and vowing to terminate the accord if it is not amended.
NIAC hosted a panel for Congressional staff following Trump’s announcement to assess the impact on the future of the deal. The panelists included Malley, Vice President of Policy at the International Crisis Group as well as a key figure in negotiating the accord while serving in the Obama Administration; John Glaser, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute; moderator Nahal Toosi, foreign affairs correspondent for Politico; and Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council.
Malley asserted that Congress should not follow the President’s advice, alluding to a pending legislation being introduced by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) that would automatically reimpose nuclear sanctions if Iran does not take steps that go beyond the nuclear deal. “The legislation that the administration is pushing and that some in Congress are supporting… is a violation of the deal, and I think the real test for Congress is to make that distinction clear,” said Malley.
Parsi agreed with Malley, saying that Trump is “very specifically looking for things that will ensure that the Iranians will say no to [the deal].” Trump is giving Congress two options regarding the future survival of the deal, Parsi said, and in both instances he is ensuring the deal fails.
Malley was also quick to point out that the agreement will not be changed through the administration attempting to use their European allies and others to pressure Iran to change the terms of the deal, highlighting the European powers’ outspoken support of continuing this deal. He insisted that “the only way that you could have a supplemental deal is by implementing this one in good faith.”
“I actually disagree with the notion that we need to constantly have the assumption, and the presumption that Iran is just doggedly in pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” argued John Glaser of CATO. Glaser raised concerns that there is a biased perception on both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S. that Iran is single-mindedly pursuing a nuclear weapon, arguing that Iran has, in fact, made the decision to engage with the world by trading more extensively with Europe. Glaser went further to contend that none of Iran’s regional behavior poses a direct threat to the United States. “Only under the most expansive definition of U.S. national interests can you even plausibly frame these issues as being a threat,” he insisted. “Iran’s regional behaviors are only a threat to the United States to the extent that we continue to insist on sticking our nose in a region whose strategic importance has been massively overstated for generations.”
Parsi rounded out the remarks by highlighting how the U.S. stance is empowering hardliners in Iran at the expense of moderates. Hardliners had opposed negotiations and claimed that the U.S. couldn’t be trusted to hold up its end of any bargain, while moderates pushed for direct talks that carried significant political risk. The decision by Trump to decertify, Parsi said, has caused a “rally around the flag effect” that has forced moderates to more closely align with hardliners in order to guard against the embarrassment of the U.S. reneging on the accord.
In his closing remarks, Malley addressed the opponents of the deal who argue they can get a better agreement, saying: “I ask all of you to put yourselves in the shoes of an Iranian, why would they accept…this choice, which basically they can only say no to? It’s an offer they can only refuse.”
Congress now bears the responsibility for the future of the Iran deal and it will largely be reviewing it through the dishonest framing President Trump set during his decertification speech last week. Last week it was also announced that robust sanctions will be levied against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and they are now labeled a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group. The combination of these policies places the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in great jeopardy, alienates the Iranian population from the U.S., and risks driving the U.S. towards international isolation at best, and potentially a costly conflict with Iran. Below you will find the three most troubling falsehoods that President Trump asserted during his speech.
1. “The Iranian regime has also intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the body tasked with inspections, has not made a single complaint about Iran’s cooperation with inspections. In fact, the IAEA has consistently confirmed in its reports that based on its own independent evidence Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement. However, this did not stop Ambassador Nikki Haley from visiting the IAEA headquarters in August and demanding to know why the IAEA had not sought inspection of Iran’s military sites.
“We’re not going to visit a military site like Parchin just to send a political signal,” said an IAEA official in reaction to Haley’s call for inspections. Meanwhile, on the same day last week that President Trump accused Iran of intimidating international inspectors, Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, said that Iran is subjected to the “most robust nuclear verification regime” adding that “the nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented.”
It is also important to note that President Trump’s decertification announcement flies in the face not only of our allies and the IAEA, but of his own generals. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dunford, and Secretary of Defense, General Mattis, have publicly stated that they agree with the IAEA that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement and it is in the national security interest of the U.S. to remain in the deal.
2. “In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.”
Any policy that leads to the disintegration of the JCPOA cannot stand in solidarity with the people of Iran who at the height of sanctions could not even obtain adequate cancer treatment. Sanctions have given hardliners in Iran a near monopoly on the economy while at the same time everyday Iranians suffer. In addition to undermining the JCPOA, President Trump has issued three separate travel bans that prevent Iranians from visiting their family in the U.S. With each successive iteration of the ban the impact on Iranians with zero connection to the regime has become increasingly disproportionate. President Trump’s assertion that he stands with the Iranian people only highlights his willful ignorance of the situation everyday Iranians find themselves in. Polling conducted inside Iran also suggests that approval for the U.S. has sharply decreased since implementation day while support for Germany, Russia, and China (countries that invest in Iran) has increased. The Trump administration is managing to alienate one of the most pro-West populations in the Middle East.
3. “The execution of our strategy begins with the long-overdue step of imposing tough sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”
President Trump’s announcement of sanctions on the IRGC and an SDGT designation places U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in grave danger. Secretary Tillerson acknowledged this in a closed-door press conference on October 12th when he said “we have considered that there are particular risks and complexities to designating an entire army, so to speak, of a country where that then puts in place certain requirements where we run into one another in the battlefield that then triggers certain actions…” The IRGC’s Major General Ali Jafari has warned that if the IRGC is sanctioned or labeled a terrorist organization then it will reciprocate by treating U.S. troops in the region as if they are ISIS. President Trump has taken the U.S. down a path that undermines the fight against ISIS without any tangible security benefit. He has also placed troops in the Middle East at risk of becoming victims of escalating rhetoric between the U.S. and Iran.
Perhaps most ironically, Trump’s rhetoric and actions have elevated the status of the IRGC within Iran and forced moderates to publicly appear in support of the IRGC. During President Rouhani’s election campaign he criticized the role that the IRGC plays within Iran in an unprecedented speech. But since President Trump’s rhetoric and designation the IRGC and the Rouhani administration have formed a united front—at least in public— against what they perceive as American threats. This will prove an impediment to the Rouhani administration achieving its human rights and anti-corruption goals, as well as warmer relations with the West.
Trump has undermined the JCPOA, punished the Iranian people, and empowered the IRGC
Through decertification of Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, a designation of the IRGC, and an equally harmful deployment of incendiary rhetoric, President Trump has accomplished three things. First, he has placed U.S. security at risk and turned forward deployed U.S. soldiers into potential pawns in a conflicted between the U.S. and IRGC. Second, he has discredited reformists and centrists inside Iran who took a political gamble on supporting the JCPOA with the U.S. Lastly, he has given the IRGC and hardliners in Iran the greatest public relations win they could have hoped for.