Fred Fleitz of the Center for Security Policy is an expert on, and leading critic of, the Iran nuclear deal. He followed the Iranian nuclear issue for the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee.
In this column for NRO, Fleitz predicts that Donald Trump will fix the Iran deal or else kill it. He cites a statement by Walid Phares, a senior national-security adviser to Trump, that the “Iran Deal will be dismantled.” He also relies on Trump’s past comments that the deal needs to be either significantly renegotiated or abandoned.
Trump is free to do either. As Fleitz argues, the deal is not binding on the U.S. because the Senate did not ratify it.
But how would the U.S. go about trying to renegotiate the deal? Fleitz says:
The first steps to renegotiation should be (1) assembling a new anti-Iran coalition of our European allies, Israel, and the Gulf states, and (2) imposing new sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear program, ballistic-missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and belligerent behavior.
Russia and China could be allowed into the new coalition, but they should not be given a veto over any new agreement. This coalition also must be kept out of the United Nations.
Could Trump assemble a strong anti-Iran coalition willing to impose new sanctions on Iran? Fleitz admits that “building the new coalition and renegotiating the agreement won’t be the easiest task.”
That sounds like an understatement. I’ve read that European companies aren’t flocking to Iran to do business in that way that many observers expected. But that doesn’t mean European governments, most of which won’t be well-disposed towards Trump, will be willing to preclude doing business with Iran now that an agreement, however flawed, is in place.
Unless an anti-Iran coalition is prepared to impose a sanctions regime comparable to the one that forced Iran to the bargaining table, the mullahs may simply renounce the deal and race to finalize the development of a nuclear weapons capability. It’s possible that Iran will take this course of action even if it believes a tough sanctions regime might be reimposed.
In this scenario, Trump’s options would be limited. He could let Iran go nuclear; he could attack Iran’s nuclear facilities; or he could rely on Israel to attack (assuming the Israelis would be willing to).
Trump has adopted a non-interventionist foreign policy stance. It seems unlikely that he would risk war by attacking Iran or having it attacked by proxy. But abandoning the nuclear deal only to have Iran develop nukes in response doesn’t seem like an acceptable option either.
Accordingly, I’m less convinced than Fleitz is that Trump will take a hard line against the Iran deal. He will not want to be forced into choosing one of the options described above. Instead, he may try to negotiate minor, face-saving concessions. It’s even possible that he will largely ignore the issue.
Unfortunately, President Obama seems to have left the U.S. with no good options when it comes to Iran. But Trump is a shrewd guy. Perhaps he can find a satisfactory way out of the box Obama and the mullahs have constructed.