Iran Nuclear Agreement Cannot Be Trump’s Moving Target

Trump’s harrying at the UN has impaired America’s reputation.

In the aftermath of his bellicose speech at the United Nations, President Trump indicated that he will change the terms of the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA), which was signed between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. In particular, he allegedly wants to change its sunset clause allowing Iran to resume certain nuclear related activities after 10 years have passed and will add new conditions such as limitations on Iran’s missile program and its support of its regional allies.

For a starter, Trump must realize that he cannot unilaterally change the agreement; the other signatories, including Iran, have to agree to any change. Trump can break from the agreement but he cannot of his own volition change the terms no matter how much he bellows and bullies. Surely the Great Dealmaker should know that you cannot change a deal unilaterally.

So where are we today?

Trump’s harrying at the UN has impaired America’s reputation. The message is clear. Don’t trust America to live up to its agreements. The U.S. will pick and choose which agreements to honor but it will harass the other side to live up to the letter and spirit of all agreements. There is nothing to gain from negotiating and reaching an agreement with Trump’s America. North Korea, beware!

Rouhani cannot respond to any unilateral U.S. bellicose rhetoric. If the U.S., along with the other five signatories, wants to talk, he should agree. But there is no basis for changing the agreement. This would have to be a new discussion.

The reason for Rouhani’s position is evident:

Iran needs a strong defensive deterrent. The memories of the Iran-Iraq War are still vivid in Iranian minds. Iraq invaded Iran. The United Nations did nothing. The United States and its European allies facilitated the transfer of internationally outlawed weapons of mass destruction to Iraq. And as former British Prime Minister has acknowledged, it was the use of these WMD that prompted Iran’s nuclear research activities. It would be irresponsible and naïve for any Iranian government to put its national security in the hands of the U.S., Europe and the United Nations, let alone Donald Trump.

Israel, totally supported by the U.S. and an avowed enemy of Iran, has an alleged arsenal of over 250 nuclear warheads and mechanisms for delivery. Iran needs a strong defense.

The U.S. has advisors and bases all around the Persian Gulf and in central Asia. Iran needs a defense against potential preemptive U.S. attacks.

Trump’s verbal attacks on Iran are duplicitous and hypocritical to the max. He accuses Iran of human rights abuses (abuses that should be condemned) while he embraces the more virulent human rights abuses of U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt just to mention a few.

He accuses Iran of supporting terrorism without any supporting evidence, yet he ignores terrorist acts openly committed by the government of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and Bahrain.

Iran is in a neighborhood where Israel, Pakistan and India have nuclear arms. More internationally, a number of countries, such as Japan and Brazil, enjoy nuclear breakout capacities but Iran is not allowed to have any such capacity.

Integral to all of this is what the nuclear powers agreed to in the NPT—they would reduce their own arsenal of nuclear weapons. But look at where we are. As America advances its program to develop and deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons with miniaturization, this new generation of nuclear arms, if deployed, is intended to afford “discriminate options” in its use—to destroy a city, a province or a country “presumably,” as advertised, without a wider fallout—and thus is intended to be more “usable,” as opposed to being more of a deterrent, as is the case with traditional nuclear arms. Presumably North Korea and Iran are the premier targets of such weapons.

Is anyone safe in Trump’s world?

The fallout of President Trump’s bellicose speech is this. Trump is promoting a severe rupture with America’s European allies and encouraging even Iranians who do not support the regime in Tehran to come to the regime’s defense. He cannot unilaterally change the terms of the agreement, but he can open a new dialogue with Iran. If this is what he wants to do, he should do it without threats. And when he comes to the table, he should bring something useful, such as a proposal for making the entire Middle East a nuclear free zone; getting all nuclear powers to agree to an ironclad elimination of nuclear arms and abandoning the development of a new generations of nuclear arms; ending all covert U.S. operations in the region, which may also be classified as terrorist acts; and ceasing the use of economic and financial sanctions to bully adversaries into submission.