Trump Leaves Iran Nuclear Deal in Limbo

By refusing to certify Iran’s compliance but not canceling the agreement, Trump has chosen the worst of both worlds.

American president Donald Trump speaks with his defense secretary, James Mattis, outside the Pentagon in Washington DC, January 27
American president Donald Trump speaks with his defense secretary, James Mattis, outside the Pentagon in Washington DC, January 27 (DoD/Jette Carr)

Count on Donald Trump to find a worse way than outright cancel the Iran nuclear deal.

The American president announced on Friday that he will no longer certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement but not withdraw from it either.

The compromise is unlikely to please Iran, which has kept its end of the bargain, nor other world powers, which want to keep the deal in place.

Flawed arguments

Trump’s arguments for refusing to certify Iran’s compliance are flawed.

He pointed out that Iran continues to support terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Shia militias in Iraq and Yemen.

But the country never pledged to curtail such activities. The agreement Barack Obama’s administration negotiated in 2015 was purely about Iran’s nuclear program — and, so far as we know, it is honoring those commitments.

If anything, Iran’s denuclearization is more important if it remains a destabilizing influence in the Middle East.

What’s next?

By withholding certification, Trump punts the decision to Congress.

Axios argues that lawmakers have three options:

  1. Do nothing: Don’t apply new sanctions and leave the existing law in place. Trump will have strained relations with Iran and European allies, but nothing will have substantively changed.
  2. Snap back sanctions: This would definitively kill the deal, possibly prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program and poisoning American relations with China, Europe and Russia.
  3. “Fix” the deal: This could mean fresh sanctions on non-nuclear activities, such as Iranian missile tests or support for terror groups. But that could still undermine the nuclear agreement if Iran feels cheated.