As expected, Donald Trump is withdrawing the United States from the agreement in which the U.S., Russia, China, and the European Union lifted sanctions on Iran in return for the country’s commitment to de-escalate its nuclear activity.
Trump made the announcement—which means that the U.S. will be reimposing its sanctions unilaterally—in a White House speech that described the Iranian regime generally as an untrustworthy sponsor of terror and cited Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent presentation of evidence that Iran once sought to develop nuclear weapons but did not otherwise accuse the regime of violating the terms of the current agreement. Trump argued, rather, that the deal’s “sunset” provisions were never strict enough to prevent the eventual development of nuclear capacity and that any deal with Iran should also seek to rein in its support of destabilizing violence elsewhere in the Middle East. (It’s perhaps worth noting that Iran’s purported ongoing malfeasance also features prominently in the Trump administration’s rhetoric about its Middle Eastern allies, aka countries with which various close Trump associates have various interesting financial relationships.*)
The speech promised that the Trump administration “will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat” in the form of a new deal that Iran will have no choice but to negotiate because of the pressure that Trump’s tough attitude will put on it; at present, however, what appears imminent is that European countries will attempt to salvage the current agreement.
Trump also argued, somewhat counterintuitively, that the fulfillment of his previous personal threats to abandon the Iran agreement will actually make North Korea more likely to consider the U.S. a trustworthy nuclear-disarmament negotiating partner. Needless to say, that view is questioned by some observers; in a February piece expressing skepticism about the Obama administration’s original case for making the Iran agreement, Slate foreign policy columnist Joshua Keating wrote that leaving it at this point would nonetheless ” accomplish little except winning international sympathy for Iran, giving it a green light to resume its nuclear program, and further underlining to America’s foes and friends that our agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” I guess now we’ll see if this Joshua Keating guy knows what he’s talking about!
Correction, May 8, 2018, at 4:10 p.m.: This post originally misidentified Qatar as an Iranian rival; while the Trump administration has recently sought to portray Qatar as an ally against Iran-induced instability, the two countries have not traditionally been enemies.