Trump administration to certify Iranian compliance with nuclear deal

The Iran nuclear deal requires that the administration certify (or decline to certify) to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance and that the agreement is in the vital national security interest of the United States. The next certification is due today.

Earlier in the day, National Security Council director H. R. McMaster indicated that the administration will so certify. McMaster added plenty of noise about how the deal is a bad one that has not changed Iran’s behavior, about how Iran is in default of the spirit of the agreement, and about how “we need to take a closer look at whether it is violating the letter of the deal.” But the bottom line is that the Trump administration will certify Iran’s compliance and the supposed national interest in upholding the deal.

Fred Fleitz, who served in national security positions for 25 years and who currently is senior vice president with the Center for Security Policy, wrote a forceful, and I believe persuasive, argument that Iran is not complying. He relied in part on a letter from four Senators — Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, David Perdue, and Marco Rubio — to Secretary of State Tillerson that pointed out four ways in which Iran is out of compliance. Here is that letter.

Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton has also argued against certification. He noted that non-certification isn’t a determination that Iran is out of compliance, but only a statement that the president is unable at this time to certify that it is. Meanwhile the administration would review the question, as it says it will do anyway.

But Bolton was clear that, in his view, “the administration should stop reviewing and start deciding.” Whatever may be true about Iranian compliance, or lack thereof, it should be clear to the administration by now that the deal is not vital to our national security interests.

During a conference call held today by McMaster, Fleitz challenged the administration’s decision to certify Iranian compliance. Fleitz gives his account of that call here.

He reports:

I asked McMaster how the Trump administration could [certify compliance] in light of clear evidence that Iran is violating the JCPOA. . . .

I said that this is a very troubling decision that amounts to looking the other way on Iran’s violations, legitimizing the dangerous concessions the Obama administration made to get this deal and goes against the president’s statements during the presidential campaign. I added that this policy to stick with the JCPOA is little different than what Hillary Clinton would have done if she had won the 2016 election.

According to Fleitz, McMaster refused to answer his question. Indeed, he refused to address the issue of Iranian violations at all until another questioner pushed him.

At that point, McMaster said that Iran is in default of the spirit of the agreement and that “we need to take a closer look at whether it is violating the letter of the deal.” Iran has been “walking up to violating the letter” of the agreement, he added.

As I read the letter from Sens. Cotton, Cruz, Perdue, and Rubio, Iran has walked well past violating the letter of the agreement. And even if the administration is uncertain about this, it should not affirmatively tell Congress that Iran is in compliance.

It would also be interesting to hear an explanation as to why the deal is in America’s national security interest, given McMaster’s concession (as reported by Fleitz) that the deal has not changed Iran’s behavior. As Sens. Cotton, et al. noted in their letter, Iran continues to wage a campaign of regional aggression, sponsor international terrorism, develop ballistic missiles, and oppress the Iranian people.

Under these circumstances, the four Senators rightly say, continuation of the current policy “would be tantamount to rewarding Iran’s belligerence.” In this regard, it should be noted that the nuclear deal lifts sanctions on Iranian terrorists and terrorist entities.

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that, according to Fleitz, the Trump administration has not filled any government post that deals with determining Iranian compliance. This, says Fleitz, has enabled pro-agreement careerists placed in key national security jobs by the Obama administration to maintain control over the review process, and thus protect the agreement even in the face of strong evidence of Iranian noncompliance and cheating.

If Fleitz is right, this reflects very poorly on President Trump. It suggests negligence of the highest order.