With everything Donald Trump has said about the nuclear deal with Iran, from his earliest days as candidate to the White House, his recent decision to end United States participation should come as no surprise.
Unlike many issues, on this he has been consistent. The president has said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran deal, shorted U.S. interests, lacked transparency and only delayed Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. Recent changes among his top advisers may have accelerated Trump’s timeline, but this is where he was headed.
What the nation confronts today is whether the ultimate destination is one the president’s team can reach.
Trump’s action will reinstate economic sanctions against Iran, pledge new ones and increase the risk of confrontation with an Iranian regime that has shown little interest in peaceful cooperation.
For now, this splits the U.S. and its major European allies and exacerbates tensions with China and Russia, who also joined the 2015 Iran deal. This is no insignificant issue, especially when the U.S. forces trade partners to choose between Iran — and sanctions — and the lucrative American market.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom wanted to avoid that, but failed to sway Trump at the 11th hour. They now say they intend to negotiate with Iran to salvage what’s left of the deal.
Nevertheless, U.S. sanctions are a daunting hammer. They hobbled Iran’s economy, for instance, and it has not recovered, despite the regime receiving much of the deal’s financial benefit upfront. Unrest is rampant among Iranian citizens apparently less enamored with ballistic missile testing and funding terrorism than the people running their country.
That key regional allies Israel and Saudi Arabia back Trump’s decision should indicate a possible opening to reshape the international landscape against the direction the Iranian regime demands.
The gamble for Trump is significant. He was able to withdraw U.S. participation because his predecessor, Barack Obama, chose not to seek congressional treaty approval. If the Iranian regime rushes back into enrichment activities, the resulting international crisis could lead to military action no one should want.
Managing this pivotal situation will demand clear-eyed strategic thinking and precise, steady execution. Neither has yet proven to be a strength of the Trump administration, but this is the road he has chosen.
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