It isn’t often the world offers a clear-cut verdict on a policy decision after only 20 months — but that’s the case with President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.
That decision has been a disaster, which explains Trump’s counterfactual effort to portray the pact brokered by the Obama administration as weak and short-lived.
“Trump is just outright lying about almost every ingredient of this agreement,” said former secretary of state John Kerry, who played an essential role in crafting it.
After all, it was Trump’s May 2018 decision to bail on that carefully constructed deal ― and to reimpose sanctions in pursuit of a tougher arrangement — that started the simmering conflict that erupted into full boil in recent days.
And so where are we now?
For perspective, step back a little in time. In 2013, Iran elected as president Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatic moderate who favored détente with the West. Rouhani then won Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support for a nuclear deal with the world’s principal powers.
Under that deal, Iran dramatically curbed its nuclear program, eliminating 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, limiting enrichment levels, altering a heavy-water reactor so it couldn’t produce plutonium (the preferred fuel for powerful nuclear weapons), and letting international inspectors into its various facilities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency repeatedly confirmed Iran was complying with the deal. But against the advice of the foreign policy establishment and the pleas of the other parties to the pact, Trump withdrew from the agreement and imposed unilateral sanctions in the (purported) hope of forcing an even tougher arrangement on Iran.
Tensions between the longtime adversaries have broken into exchanged attacks. Iran is united against us after Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike last week.
Iraq, meanwhile, wants US troops out of that country because Trump violated its sovereignty with the assassination strike within its borders.
In his Wednesday address, Trump tried to muddy the trail that leads from his ideologically driven 2018 withdrawal decision to the current situation. In that attempt at camouflage, a tense and stumbling president made some astonishingly off-the-mark assertions (read: lied) about the Iran deal.
“The very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway, and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout,” Trump said, referring to the agreement by the initials for its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Under the agreement, the International Atomic Energy Agency had the right for comprehensive inspection of Iran’s uranium cycle for 25 years.
“Every ounce of uranium — every ounce — is being traced from cradle to grave, every step of the way, from the mine to the mill to the yellow cake, from the yellow cake into the centrifuge, out of the centrifuge as waste, and then to destruction,” Kerry said in a telephone interview.
The restrictions on uranium enrichment and stockpiles, meanwhile, would have lasted until 2031, allowing ample time for further negotiations. A similar 15-year restriction applied to building any reactor capable of producing plutonium.
Further, under the agreement and the so-called “Additional Protocol” that Iran had agreed to ratify as a condition of the nuclear deal, the IAEA got long-term rights to inspect all nuclear facilities. That included suspected but undeclared ones, with a dispute process designed to keep delays to 24 days.
“Not 10 years, not 15, not 20, not 25. Forever — as long as Iran is in the deal,” says Kerry of those inspection rights.
Trump also made it sound as though the Obama administration had “given” Iran billions for agreeing to the deal. In fact, most of that money was frozen Iranian assets, unlocked as part of the agreement, while some was a returned payment for military equipment ordered under the Shah that went undelivered because of the revolution that forced him from office.
The president obviously hopes to spin some sort of victory out of his international incompetence.
But as his blatant misrepresentation of the Iran deal demonstrates, Trump is trying to blame the previous administration for a mess of his own making.