President Trump seems to be indicating his patience for continuing the awful Iran deal is at an end. His address to the UN General Assembly made his disgust crystal clear, calling the agreement “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the U.S. has ever entered” and an “embarrassment to the U.S.”
There is a deadline on October 15 to certify whether Iran is abiding by the deal, required by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) President Obama signed. The intelligence community claims Iran is in technical compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but admits that without real inspections of any military sites they cannot really know. But INARA requires compliance with all related agreements too.
This brings into play UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231, which is part of the international implementation of the deal and clearly a related agreement. Iran is definitely not in compliance with multiple parts of this, including ballistic missile testing and exporting weapons to terrorists. President Trump can agree with the intelligence folks on technical compliance with the JCPOA, but note major violations of UNSCR 2231 and state he cannot certify because of that.
What Happens Next
Then what happens? That is where things get interesting. There are provisions for Congress to be able to quickly re-impose sanctions, but that is far from certain. Our allies who helped negotiate the deal have all begun major business dealings with Iran, and it will be tough to get them to agree to forego those. So what kind of leverage does President Trump have?
The goal must be to ensure that Iran can never become a nuclear-armed nation, especially under the current supremacist theocracy. That is the fatal flaw of the Iran deal: it has sunset clauses that gave Iran a free pass to build nuclear weapons after 10-15 years. This was major mistake and now we must find a way to stop that even though President Obama already gave them all the rewards up front.
The United States can use many areas of soft power to bring Iran into check, including diplomatic pressure, sanctions, trade embargos, banking restrictions, and terror financing designations. But there are two vital hard-power options that must be part of any strategy to actually stop the mullahs from building weapons to threaten the rest of the world.
What Trump Should Do
The first is the return of regime change as official U.S. policy. President Trump has stated repeatedly that the oppressive theocracy does not treat its people well, and it would be helpful as leverage to announce that we would not be displeased by a change in government. Actual regime change would be one of the more effective ways to end the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian state. There is no guarantee any successor government would forego the program, but it could be a condition of U.S. recognition that they do so.
The Kurdish independence referendum on September 25 was overwhelmingly in favor of self-determination. This has repercussions for Iran, which has a large and restive Kurdish population and many Azeris and others, around 30 percent of its population, who are not fans of the mullahs. A little U.S. support for them could go a long way toward keeping the Iranian government mindful of its internal issues. It could also make them more amenable to negotiation or potentially lead to their removal by their own people.
The other component of a strategy for success is the certainty for all involved that failure of the soft-power options will lead to a military strike. Without the credible threat of an iron fist in the velvet glove of diplomacy, we will never get the Iranians’ full attention. This must be on the table although some of the Iranian program is below-ground and essentially unreachable. We can still destroy much of it and most of their other military capabilities. That will serve as a powerful motivator to act in good faith for once.
The best possible outcome is a peaceful negotiated settlement that verifiably ends Iran’s nuclear program. The best chance of achieving that is for them to know we will support the removal of their government, and if forced, the destruction of their destructive capabilities.