By Jed Babbin
Iran’s best lobbyists — French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — visited the White House separately last week. Though they had other concerns on their agendas, their primary mission was to persuade President Trump to not revoke the 2015 Obama nuclear weapons deal with Iran.
Mr. Trump appears to have immunized himself against their blandishments but may have been persuaded to delay cancelling the agreement in favor of pursuing a larger peace deal.
While the president has a distant relationship to Mrs. Merkel, Mr. Macron has worked hard to gain Mr. Trump’s confidence and to prove France a faithful ally. He began last July when Mr. Trump visited France on Bastille Day and was feted with a fancy dinner at the Eiffel Tower and attendance at a grand military parade. The two have spoken many times since then.
In mid-April, when Mr. Trump said he wanted to pull U.S. troops out of Syria quickly, Mr. Macron claimed that he had convinced the president to not withdraw our troops. In the most un-French act of any French president in memory, Mr. Macron ordered French forces to launch cruise missiles alongside ours and Britain’s in Mr. Trump’s April 13 strike punishing the Assad regime for its latest use of chemical weapons.
All of that was the predicate to Mr. Macron’s last-ditch attempt to convince the president to not revoke the Obama nuclear weapons deal on May 12, when he will again inform Congress of the status of the deal.
Under the misbegotten Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the president is required to certify to Congress, every 90 days, that Iran is complying with the agreement.
Mr. Trump, despite having castigated the deal frequently in his campaign, certified Iran’s compliance twice in 2017. But in January, Mr. Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance and gave our European allies until May to fix it.
Mr. Trump wants the deal to be changed significantly. First, to revise its ridiculous inspection regime to require inspections of the military sites Iran now bans inspectors from examining. Second, to establish limits on Iran’s ballistic missile development, which the deal fails to even mention. Third, to extend the deal indefinitely beyond its 2025 expiration.
Since January, nothing has been done. Now, French, German, British and American diplomats are reportedly working on a proposal to Iran to make those changes. They are wasting their time because Iran, Russia and China — three of the seven parties to the deal — have already rejected any changes.
Mr. Macron has proposed an alternative to the president, a more grandiose agreement with Iran that would include his changes to the deal as well as Iran’s actions in Syria and sponsorship of terrorism around the world.
Though — as Mr. Macron admitted publicly — apparently failed in his effort to persuade the president to stick with the Iran deal, he may have succeeded in delaying Mr. Trump’s action for years by enticing him into a new negotiation. The president said he would like a new deal with Iran with “solid foundations” he left undefined.
The Obama administration took six years to negotiate the 2015 deal, which Iran is clearly violating. For example, the Obama deal requires Iran to dismantle and store almost all of its uranium enrichment centrifuges, making it impossible for them to begin enriching uranium to bomb-fuel levels for at least a year.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that Iran has maintained the ability to restart the full-scale enrichment of uranium in just four days. Obviously, for Mr. Trump to certify that Iran is complying with the deal would be false.
Despite its refusals to renegotiate the 2015 deal, Iran would be delighted to rope us into a pretend renegotiation of that deal as part of a negotiation to create a broader Middle East peace plan. It would benefit hugely from a decision by Mr. Trump to the delay in re-imposition of sanctions during the years it could string us along to negotiate a broader deal.
Three of the seven parties to the 2015 deal — Iran, China and Russia — are entirely supportive of each other. They won’t agree to the changes Mr. Trump desires but all three would love another multi-year round of negotiations resulting in another unenforceable agreement.
Mr. Trump can either cancel the 2015 deal with Iran or decide to entrap himself into years of negotiations on Mr. Macron’s grandiose plan. He understands that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is watching closely. The softer Mr. Trump is on Iran, the tougher Mr. Kim will be in their coming summit.
The best course for Mr. Trump would be to revoke the 2015 deal and then challenge the other parties to it to renegotiate the broader plan that Mr. Macron and Mrs. Merkelfavor. We can re-impose the sanctions we previously had on Iran during that negotiation period, maximizing our leverage by threatening to impose them on European companies that do business with Iran. To do otherwise would embolden Iran and North Korea, and convince China and Russia that we can be easily fooled.
- Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”
This article was first published ashingtontimes