Andrew Malcolm

Trump’s decision on the nuclear deal is not just about Iran

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony marking the beginning of new Iranian academic year at the Tehran University on Saturday.
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a ceremony marking the beginning of new Iranian academic year at the Tehran University on Saturday. AP

While the nation was justifiably consumed with the awful human ravages of hurricanes and a wealthy, crazed sniper in Nevada, the most important deadline of the young Trump presidency suddenly looms: Certifying whether Iran is complying with the leaky nuclear deal “negotiated” by the Obama administration.

Every 90 days, next on Oct. 15, the administration must update Congress on whether Iran is “transparently, verifiably and fully implementing the agreement.” This is not part of the pact itself, but a congressional edict passed because Obama, knowing the likely fate of the deal, refused to submit the agreement to Capitol Hill for ratification.

If you don’t know President Donald Trump despises the deal, you haven’t been listening these past two years. Most recently, he told everyone at the United Nations: “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me.”

We believe him this time.

After some leaks, some day this week, probably Thursday, despite opposition from some senior aides, Trump will likely announce he is decertifying Iran’s compliance. This is the compromise position between 1) walking away from the whole deal and 2) once again, falsely certifying Iran’s cooperation for fear of riling the mullahs, who can wait 10 years to restart their warhead construction even if abiding.

As a topping, Trump will likely declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization like al Qaeda and ISIS.

Trump’s decertification itself, if that’s what he finally decides, is not as big a deal as critics will have you believe. Ex-President Obama will be upset because the pact was his sole foreign policy legacy, if you don’t count turning Libya into a failed state, slapping ineffective sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea and passively dismissing ISIS as a “JV” allowing it to get a full head of killing steam in Iraq and Syria with wannabe members marauding Europe.

The decertification actually does nothing except start a 60-day clock for Congress to do something — kill the pact, order renegotiation or, more likely, mire itself in yet another embarrassing, paralyzing procedural quagmire.

Does turning the issue over to Congress sound familiar? That’s exactly what Trump did with DACA, aiming to deport the illegal children of illegal immigrants. Both shifts kinda fulfill campaign promises – check those boxes — but leave the heavy political lifting to others.

Largely forgotten in all this are Iran and our European allies, who really don’t want the ineffective pact to fail because their businesses have a lot of lucrative deals in Iran. Tehran has no interest in renegotiating, which it’s made clear. Why bother? Obama frontloaded all of Iran’s goodies, including unfreezing $150 billion in assets.

What especially bothers Trump’s team is the sunset provision, which effectively ends the pact in a decade no matter what. And Trump correctly thinks Iran should stop its funding of terrorism and sedition throughout the region and beyond.

That and Iran’s development of ICBMs to deliver its future warheads weren’t part of the agreement. And the American real estate mogul has no leverage yet to force the issues.

But here’s where the Iran problem goes global. North Korea is watching. Its weapons and delivery systems are much farther along than Iran’s. Short of nuclear annihilation of Kim Jong Un’s rogue regime and millions of its starving subjects, Trump has little leverage there beyond pleading with a reluctant China to help.

Whatever gets worked out or not with either North Korea or Iran will set a precedent for the other.

From the viewpoint of Pyongyang or Tehran, why should they trust any negotiated Western promises? After lengthy detailed diplomatic talks, the U.S., Britain and Russia promised to honor Ukraine’s territorial integrity if it would relinquish its nuclear weapons. It did. We didn’t.

In 2003 under diplomatic pressure, Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program. As a reward, eight years later we actively overthrew the dictator, leaving him for a mob to tear apart. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated that with a victorious arm pump.

So, preventive nuclear war? Or once again, allied acquiescence to the deadly development of now two ambitious programs to build weapons of mass destruction and — who knows? — quite possibly launch them?

Maybe if we just give them a few more years.

Malcolm is an author and veteran national and foreign correspondent covering politics since the 1960s. Follow him @AHMalcolm