After the nuclear archive revelation, what will Trump, EU, Iran do?

Until Monday’s mesmerizing show, in the eyes of the EU, paradoxically, Iran had the high ground when it came to nuclear negotiations.

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while addressing a joint news conference with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, April 30, 2018. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while addressing a joint news conference with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, April 30, 2018.
Everything was up in the air coming into this week.
By May 12, US President Donald Trump would be deciding the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, with all of the long-term global consequences for war, peace and a potential nuclear Iran.
Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Mossad on Monday schooled the Iranians and those trying to keep Trump in the deal with no major changes and shifted the terms of the debate.
What was the impact of the documents obtained by the Mossad, and how have they likely altered the dynamics of the US, EU and Iran negotiations over the future of the 2015 nuclear deal? The treasure trove of secret Iranian nuclear documents was mostly not new and from the 1999-2003 era. But there were key points that were new or that could alter the playing field of the debate about “fixing” the Iran nuclear deal.
Until Monday’s mesmerizing show, in the eyes of the EU, paradoxically, Iran had the high ground when it came to nuclear negotiations.
Sure, the EU would admit that Iran was promoting terrorism all over the Middle East and was violating UN resolutions with its ballistic missile testing. They would admit that there was no serious plan in place to stop it from a “walkout” to a nuclear weapon when the nuclear deal expired.
But they would brush these issues off. The EU would repeat ad nauseam that Iran is complying to a T with the letter of the law of the nuclear deal.
The lack of violations has been confirmed by all top Israeli and US defense officials, including the strongly anti-Iran Mike Pompeo when he was still CIA director.
Moreover, the EU would call Trump’s wanting to pull out of the deal just another example of his nonstrategic impulsiveness and his focus on the short-term benefits of “America First” at the cost of all other values, including long-term US interests.
He and the US would be violating the deal, and the EU would have no part of it and stand with Iran, Russia and China – being true to what they signed to.
Cracks started to appear in the EU’s wall of opposition to major deal changes when French President Emmanuel Macron recently met with Trump and expressed an openness to a new deal that would incorporate the old nuclear deal but fill the holes that were angering Trump and others.
By April 12, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had already floated or implied to Congress the idea of Trump and the US leaving the Iran deal but not enforcing secondary sanctions on the EU for trading with Iran, so that the deal itself could remain in place.
Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association, which supports the deal, told The Jerusalem Post, “I agree that Trump could try and reimpose the sanctions but claim he is not enforcing them and say that the US is staying in the agreement.
“I’m actually more worried about the damage that scenario could do than if the US withdraws. If the US withdraws, that might spur Europe to take actions to block sanctions.... But if the US doesn’t pull out and is violating the agreement, the limbo will likely dry up business with Iran, but may not be enough to spur Europe and others to take action to maintain channels to Iran,” she added.
Others say that this in-between ground would achieve two goals. It would give Trump the big news conference he wanted, where he could loudly say he had left the deal as promised. At the same time, it would avoid scuttling a deal that, while imperfect, has converted many who started as opponents into supporters of keeping it as long as it is “fixed” over time.
A combination of Post interviews and public statements indicates that “fix, don’t nix” has been the clear majority position of top defense-intelligence types. That would include the current IDF high command, a range of former Mossad chiefs, a range of former IDF intelligence chiefs, a range of former CIA chiefs, and US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.
The deal is full of holes, the majority of the defense-intelligence communities would all say. But it has kept Iran from advancing toward a nuclear weapon for three years and might continue doing so for around another seven, so why blow it up? If Netanyahu says “Fix it or nix it,” they say “Fix it but don’t nix it.”
THAT WAS the world until Monday. But what Netanyahu did on Monday – even without a smoking gun of Iranian violations since the 2015 deal – was undermine Iran’s nuclear deal-related “high ground” globally.
Regarding the prime minister’s presentation, the CIA referred the Post to the White House, which clearly supports Netanyahu’s accusations against Iran.
Several European countries are rushing to Israel to review the intelligence. Some experts have circumscribed the impact Netanyahu’s presentation should have. But other than Iran, no one has denied its veracity, and most parties seem to be adjusting their positions.
IAEA spokesman Fredrik Dahl’s response to the Post regarding the Mossad documents focused on what it knew as of a major December 2015 report, but did not contradict Netanyahu’s findings.
The IAEA said that in its prior report, “the agency assessed that, before the end of 2003, an organizational structure was in place in Iran suitable for the coordination of a range of activities relevant to… a nuclear explosive device.
“Although some activities took place after 2003, they were not part of a coordinated effort... the agency had no credible indications of activities in Iran” for developing “a nuclear explosive device after 2009,” it added.
But the Mossad documents prove Iran did not just lie once and about one issue. They lied through their teeth over and over again and about a wide range of nuclear issues.
So important was it to Iran to conceal its past push for a nuclear weapon that it kept moving its secret documents to avoid detection, moving them as recently as 2017.
Netanyahu justifiably asked: If Iran does not intend to produce a nuclear weapon when the deal expires, what do they have to hide? With a range of European countries descending on Israel to review the intelligence, and a muffled opposition to Netanyahu’s presentation, it seems the EU has seen that Trump’s instincts plus the prime minister’s Mossad presentation have empowered Trump in demanding changes to the deal.
If Iran cannot be trusted to come clean about the past, now the EU may say that it cannot demand that the deal’s restrictions end in around seven years as planned.
Former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told the Post and other media that now there would be greater pressure on Iran to permit anytime, anywhere access to military sites that might be connected to its nuclear program.
Trump now could say he wants a new deal because Iran’s credibility is shot in any area where the deal had given it space, even if Iran has adhered to the letter of the deal’s limits.
SO WHAT now? Iran will still stand its ground but may agree to some changes. A review of recent Iranian official statements and Iran’s state-sponsored media outlets shows Tehran’s threats have been focused on trying to get the US and the EU to stay in the deal. This means the Iranians realize they could have settled for even less and the deal still would have been worth it to them.
The EU may be starting to view Iran’s threats to walk away as, if not quite something to be ignored, something to be taken as a starting point for negotiations, and not an end point.
It is still dizzying to think of how this volatile mix of agendas and evolving positions and trends will come out in the end.
But if nixing the deal to get a new deal or replacing the deal with EU agreement seemed a fantasy a few months ago, now it may not be.
Serious new option two could be Trump pulling out but holding off on enforcing secondary sanctions, while Iran, despite the threats, sucks up its pride and remains in the deal, while agreeing to some minor add-ons going forward.
If Trump pulls out of the deal, but wants to try to influence Iran to stay in it, he could quietly order the US Treasury not to enforce secondary sanctions, or even to quietly pass on to foreign companies that the US will not be enforcing sanctions for now.
A new or fixed deal would be far more stable, if Iran were to buy in. But even if there is no new or fixed deal, the Mossad documents make it more likely that Iran will stay in the deal even if the US exits.
This would create an unstable and combustible situation which could accidentally lead to war. But it might not lead to war, and risky and combustible might not bother Trump or Netanyahu and might create ongoing leverage on Tehran like a loaded gun.
As the world waits apprehensively for Trump’s decision week, Netanyahu and the Mossad moved the still multiple possible scenarios more in the direction of pressure on Iran.
Whether that will translate into an outcome where there is a better nuclear deal or engender a chain reaction with potentially dangerous consequences is anyone’s guess.