Paul R. Pillar
Iran Nuclear Proliferation, Middle East
Don’t be either fooled or relieved by President Trump’s waiving, for now, of nuclear sanctions on Iran, and thus his forgoing of an explicit withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear agreement. Trump still is determined to destroy the agreement, though not necessarily in the way he threatens, or in a way some have feared. He is set on destroying the JCPOA partly because of the same guiding principle, if it can be called that, steering so much of his presidency, which is to tear down any significant accomplishment of his predecessor. His effort to destroy the accord also is motivated by his submission to elements that do not want anyone to reach agreements of any sort with Iran—such elements mainly being the right-wing government of Israel and its backers in the United States.
Trump’s effort is impeded by the fact that the JCPOA is working. It continues, as confirmed by international inspectors, to fulfill its purpose of blocking all possible paths to a possible Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran continues to comply with its obligations under the agreement. As such, the JCPOA continues to serve the interests of the United States and of international security and the cause of nuclear nonproliferation. These evidently are not interests that motivate Trump, but he cannot afford to be honest about his actual motivations. The fact that the agreement is working prevents him from making any case for withdrawing from the agreement directly and explicitly.
Trump’s statement on this subject blows all the confusing smoke that can be blown about Iran and about the JCPOA, with much of it having nothing to do with the JCPOA. As usual, the smoke is filled with misconceptions, such as that a cash settlement that resolved an issue of undelivered aircraft that the shah ordered 40 years ago supposedly was part of the nuclear deal, when in fact it was not. Or that we should get angry over how Iran “has funded, armed, and trained more than 100,000 militants to spread destruction across the Middle East,” when some of those militants have been fighting on the same side as the United States and its allies against Islamic State (ISIS).