5 options for Trump as the nuclear clock ticks on Iran deadline

Trump’s options vary from merely enforcing the deal’s provisions to ending the deal immediately to everything in-between.

September 18, 2017 17:34
3 minute read.
US President Donald Trump looks on during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.

US President Donald Trump looks on during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, June 26, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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As US President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, every NGO, expert and interest group is campaigning for Trump to use its approach regarding the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

Trump’s options vary from merely enforcing the accord’s provisions to immediately abrogating it to everything in between.

Option 1: Enforce the deal’s provisions

Obama administration alumni and a group of disarmament experts who supported the agreement claim that it is working. They note that the International Atomic Energy Agency has consistently said Tehran is complying with its obligations. Accordingly, they say no changes are needed, just continued careful enforcement of the deal’s provisions, including the IAEA’s monitoring of Iran.

Option 2: End the deal immediately

The accord’s harshest critics, including many Republicans and many disarmament experts who opposed it, want it ended with no asterisks, and the sooner the better. They believe it merely gave Iran sanctions relief and a free hand to promote more terrorism in the Middle East. They are also convinced the Islamic Republic is cheating on the deal clandestinely or will abuse it to “walk out” into developing a nuclear weapon the second its terms expire, since, even while they are in effect, they do not prohibit Iran from making advancements in uranium enrichment and ballistic missile testing. They say that only ending the deal can achieve the clarity needed to pressure Tehran.

Option 3: Certify Iran as compliant for now, but try to renegotiate

This is an in-between option closer to keeping the agreement, but starts from a point of greater skepticism.

Experts backing this approach are usually critical of the accord, but feel that Iran has already gotten its main benefit with the removal of sanctions. They say that simply canceling the deal, as opposed to improving it, would just give Iran a green light to take its gains plus go nuclear. They advocate a combination of public pressure, gradually increased sanctions and a reminder of the military option to convince Iran to agree to additional monitoring and safeguards.

Four areas where these experts say that the agreement must be improved: The IAEA must be allowed full and routine access to Iran military nuclear sites; Iran’s permitted requests for nuclear program materials through the UN should be made public; the IAEA should provide more information about why it views Iran as compliant with the deal; and Iran’s ballistic missile testing should be rolled back.

Currently, the IAEA has limited access to military nuclear sites and has been criticized for allowing Iran to interject itself into the soil sample-taking process when the IAEA visited the Parchin site. Transparency and rolling back missile testing could help catch cheating and hamper Iran’s advancement in making a nuclear weapon operational.

Option 4: Sort of end the deal but with a question mark

This approach is closer to ending the deal, but more moderate. The idea would be for Trump in mid-October to decline to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, but express an openness to continue the deal if Congress authorizes it within 60 days and as part of a renegotiated and improved agreement.

Experts promoting this approach want changes to the accord similar to the ones wanted by the experts who want to keep it, but to renegotiate it. The main difference is in tactics. Option 3 experts believe declining to certify the deal is too risky, as it could provide a platform for Iran to pull out and race ahead to nuclear weapons, while blaming the US. Experts suggesting Trump decline to certify compliance believe that Iran will not be open to negotiation absent the threat of ending the deal by initially refusing to certify.

Option 5: Extend the deal

A number of experts promoting the other options also support extending limits on Iran’s nuclear program beyond the deal’s eight- to 10-year expiries. The difference is that experts supporting this as the primary issue say that all efforts at renegotiation are useless if Tehran can comply with the agreement and build a nuclear weapon in 10 years. They say that working harder to prevent the Islamic Republic from cheating is not bad, but it misses that the core issue is that the deal’s restrictions on Iran’s activities will soon expire.

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