A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage during the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US “needs to formulate a new strategy very soon, though not in a panic,” former Israeli Atomic Energy Commission official and INSS expert Ephraim Asculai told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday after the Trump administration waived nuclear-deal sanctions against Iran a day earlier.
The waiver was buried deep in a US State Department statement that mostly focused on new human rights-related sanctions that the US slapped on Iran, and was significant in that it is the first time funds will flow to Iran with US President Donald Trump’s approval.
With Trump not tossing the deal as he promised during the election campaign while certifying that Iran is following the deal and now waiving sanctions, has his position shifted into owning the deal even if he would not have made it himself?
Asculai said Trump has “an obligation to continue with the deal until he formulates what to do. If he had not approved the sanctions waiver, he would have fallen into a trap.”
“[It would] not have been good to make a decision about the deal under time pressure, this is obvious. But he also extended other sanctions against Iran” and is reviewing the Iran deal on a holistic level, which “signals a middle ground,” he said.
This means, he added, that waiving nuclear-deal sanctions “was not a change in approach,” but a move to buy time.
If four months as president was too short for Trump to formulate a new Iran strategy, how long is too long?
Asculai said he hoped Trump would start trying to renegotiate aspects of the deal “within six months at the latest,” adding that a renegotiated version of the deal should put stronger “obligations on Iran and the IAEA for stronger inspections.”
Further, he urged Trump to maintain an aggressive tone with Iran and to fill more of the deal’s “critical loopholes that are not” sufficiently addressed.
Like Asculai, former Strategic Affairs Ministry director-general and Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs expert Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser said Trump’s waiving of sanctions this round was not necessarily his final position, but took an even stronger stance.
“The real test will be the review by [Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson,” he said.
Kuperwasser advocated renegotiating aspects of the Iran deal, asserting that upon completion of a review by Tillerson is an ideal time “because the Iranians are currently in a temporarily weaker position.”
The Iranians, he said, had “made concessions regarding their enriched uranium, but have not yet completed development of advanced centrifuges [for enriching uranium] or reaped the economic benefits” they are due to obtain as part of the deal.
Pointing out that Trump can force a renegotiation on his own because the US Congress never endorsed the deal, Kuperwasser also stated that he believed the US was strong enough under Trump to force a renegotiation even in the face of objections by Iran, Europe, Russia and China.
He complimented Trump for recently using military force in Syria and for taking a stronger tone with North Korea – all of which make it more likely that Iran will worry about a confrontation with the US president.
Although he believes the Trump administration’s more aggressive stance is the right position, Kuperwasser also warned that “if the US decides to continue with the agreement [with no changes] that would be grave.”