President Donald Trump decided to re-certify the Iranian nuclear agreement Monday only on the condition his national security team bring him a comprehensive strategy to aggressively confront the Islamic Republic in the coming 90 days.
Trump reportedly departed for a recent international trip to Paris under the impression his national security team would have the strategy awaiting him, but was unsatisfied when presented with the plan Monday.
Trump’s objections to re-certifying the deal center on Iran’s international behavior outside of its nuclear program, including its ballistic missile program, its ongoing activity in the Syrian civil war, and the undermining of U.S. objectives in Iraq and Yemen.
The president’s team also reportedly emphasized the need to coordinate any U.S. action across the range of actors involved in the Iran deal, which is also signed by the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, and Germany. Proponents of the Trump administration for staying in the deal reportedly include national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
These proponents reportedly told Trump that withdrawing from the deal would essentially allow the regime to keep all of the sanctions relief money it got in 2015-2016 while not having to comply with nuclear site inspections. Opponents of the deal, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, emphasize Iran’s continued ballistic missile activity and nefarious influence in the middle east.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis also has a storied history with the Iran deal after he was reportedly forced to retire five months early as commander of U.S. Central Command in 2013 by the Obama administration for being too hawkish on Iran. Mattis did not oppose the deal itself, but instead asked provocative questions about the longterm impact of the deal.
Questions he posed to former President Barack Obama and his team included, “What do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf?”
He would say, “And then what?” when officials would answer or demur.
Trump’s ire at Iran was clear during a White House background briefing call late Monday which emphasized that Iran was “unquestionably in default of the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and described the country as “one of the most dangerous threats to U.S. interests and to regional security,” and would still be subject to increased sanctions for its ballistic missile program and other malign influence.
Trump pledged throughout the 2016 campaign to withdraw the U.S. from the nuclear agreement and his White House has repeatedly emphasized he views it as “a bad deal.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared to suggest Monday that Iran may withdraw from the nuclear deal if the U.S. continues to sanction the regime and discourage Western investment, saying, “Iran has other options available, including withdrawing from the deal.”
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