Originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
By AIC's Honorary Board Member Thomas R. Pickering.
President Donald Trump has taken the first step toward pulling the United States out of the international agreement that is preventing the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
With no factual basis, this decision looms like pure domestic politics over America’s international commitments and leadership. Trust is the coin of the realm in foreign affairs, and we have just begun to debase it in the eyes of much of the world. Who will make a deal with us if we can confect a reason out of thin air to pull out of our agreements? U.S. leadership is imperiled, especially in dealing with Iran and North Korea.
There is no national security objective that could be achieved by this decision. It alienates most of our closest allies, who joined in getting Iran to agree to limit its nuclear program. It gives comfort and encouragement to Russia, China and other world powers who have long yearned to split us from our allies. It offers Iran the opportunity to return to an unmonitored and robust nuclear-enrichment program, which could lead to the development of nuclear weapons.
The unraveling of this unprecedented and successful negotiation with Iran would trash decades of American leadership in promoting the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Mr. Trump’s action seems to have been taken against the recommendations of his principal national security advisers and contrary to the reports of Iran’s full compliance provided to him by the U.S. intelligence community. The president appears to be undermining the nuclear agreement unilaterally, determined to undo all the achievements of his predecessor.
Many will conclude that this is, at best, a tactical ploy to avoid accepting his constitutional responsibility to protect American security because it passes a final decision on breaking with the nuclear agreement to Congress — a dereliction of duty that betrays American values and principles.
Congress and America’s friends around the world are left in the dark as to how to respond to this inexplicable U.S. policy turn on Iran. Does Congress want to re-impose economic sanctions against Iran, placing the United States in violation of the nuclear agreement and possibly leading to its collapse and/r another Middle East conflict? Should America’s European allies try to humor the administration, perhaps by suggesting that continued U.S. participation in the process could somehow lead to a better agreement, or stand by the agreement as negotiated and do their best to preserve it without the United States?
As it stands, Iran likely will join Russia and China in encouraging Europe to split with the United States, promoting the further breakdown of the NATO alliance. Still, will it choose to renew its nuclear program and perhaps move toward building nuclear weapons, unfettered by the unprecedented international inspections now taking place under the agreement? Are we headed toward a new confrontation with Iran that could lead to yet another war in the Middle East, something that Mr. Trump campaigned against and that Americans rightly oppose?
Perhaps even more immediately and perilously, will Iran’s leaders become so concerned about U.S. efforts at “regime change” that they will intervene even more radically in Middle Eastern conflicts and politics, directly threatening U.S interests?
The United States’ international standing, already weakened by inconsistent and unsupported threats, will suffer further because of the Trump administration’s rejection of the Iran nuclear agreement. Most of the rest of world sees the deal as a win for just about everybody, not least the United States. The president must be persuaded to support it, not kill it.