Why Trump can't keep his promise of no nuclear Iran 'ever'

Trump and Netanyahu may not like the Iran nuclear deal, they may not have made it, and they may enforce it more aggressively than the Obama administration, but attempts to “rip it up” are over.

February 16, 2017 15:02
3 minute read.
Donald Trump

Donald Trump. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Has everyone forgotten the complex challenges posed by Iran? Most of the media attention from Wednesday’s landmark first meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump has been on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

To the extent there is coverage of the two leaders’ comments on Iran, the focus is their similar sounding tones and goals of preventing a nuclear Iran – with Trump saying he will make sure Tehran does not get a nuclear weapon “ever.”

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Missed in all of this are some hugely important developments, including what didn’t happen.
Trump says will do more to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions (credit: REUTERS)

One of Netanyahu’s primary goals as prime minister for the last two years, including bruising public fights with the Obama administration, was blocking or repealing the Iran nuclear deal. He called it a historic mistake.

Trump the candidate ran unequivocally on a “rip it up” (the nuclear agreement) message, calling it the worst deal in history.

There were hints once Trump was elected and his nominees started to be asked about the Iran deal that change was afoot.

Change is now official: The agreement is here to stay. It is now both Trump and Netanyahu policy.

They may not like the deal, they may not have made it and they may enforce it more aggressively than the Obama administration, but attempts to “rip it up” are officially over.

Yet that is not the biggest development from Wednesday.

The biggest development was the absence of the two leaders announcing any concrete steps to change the Islamic Republic’s behavior other than a strong-sounding but vague promise by Trump that he will never let Tehran get a nuclear weapon.

Trump’s aggressive rhetoric and implied threats may be enough to keep Iran observing the deal’s limits on its nuclear program in the coming years.

But the biggest worry has always been what happens in January 2026 and 2031, when aspects of those limits start to expire? The problem is Trump can’t guarantee Iran will not fully legally “break-out” to a nuclear weapon then, because he will not be president. Even if he is reelected, his second term would end in January 2025. It’s simple math.

If Israel and the US were really making Iran their top issue, they could have made some concrete announcements about joint efforts to define what they would do to respond to Iranian minor violations of the agreement, defining major violations and specific efforts to make limits on Iran’s nuclear program permanent.

At the very least as a nearterm measure, they could have suggested, as former IDF intelligence chief Maj.-Gen.

(res.) Amos Yadlin has suggested, some concrete moves at the UN to ban Iranian missile tests, after Iran carried out multiple tests recently.

Currently, the nuclear deal does not restrict such tests, and other UN resolutions only “call on” Iran to avoid such tests, but do not ban them.

Or they could have announced wider sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, which are said to be under consideration, or moving more US military assets to the region as a show of strength.

There were no concrete moves or rolling out of new processes announced.

To date, the Trump administration has not even announced whether and to what extent it is communicating directly with Iran as the Obama administration did – or whether this is being done just through the media.

Many hawks on the Iran issue are so thrilled with the stronger tone from Trump that he is already getting high marks.

But as is always with the Islamic Republic, the devil is in the details, and Wednesday’s meeting surprisingly had none.

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