President Trump has an Irrational Fear of the Iran Deal

Lida Ehteshami

Long before Donald Trump was mocking “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea, or taunting “fools” in the Republican foreign-policy establishment, he expressed special contempt for one international agreement: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which blocked Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

After the Obama Administration signed the agreement, in 2015, then candidate Trump called it “the worst deal ever,” and vowed to “renegotiate” it once he was in office. In fact, the landmark agreement capitalized on a rare consensus. After years of hesitating, China and Russia joined the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, along with Germany and the European Union, in supporting American pressure on Iran to change course.

At a negotiating session in Vienna, the coalition was so large that, for appearance’s sake, Iran stocked its side of the table with additional staffers. Jake Sullivan, one of the U.S. negotiators, recalled, “It was the whole world versus Iran.”

The deal did not change all of Iran’s bad behavior: Tehran continued to test conventional ballistic missiles, to foment violence in Iraq and Syria, and to unjustly detain Americans. But the effect on its nuclear program was unquestionable. In return for the removal of sanctions imposed by the United States and other nations, which had crippled its economy, Iran agreed to shut down facilities and to give broad access to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

When President Trump discovered that not only Mattis but also Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other national-security officials wanted to preserve the agreement, “he threw a fit,” a source told the Washington Post last week. By early October, the White House had devised a plan to assuage his anger.

The President would refuse to certify that the deal is in America’s national interest, an action that would not undo the agreement outright but punt the decision to Congress, for lawmakers to decide whether to renew sanctions.

It is a risky move, nonetheless. If hawks in Congress push through a law demanding further concessions, it could provoke Iran to abandon the deal, eject the inspectors, and accelerate its nuclear program. That might result in calls for Iran’s facilities to be destroyed before they can produce enough weapons-grade material for a bomb.

Such a chain of events could lead to a particularly perilous consequence: returning to the possibility of military conflict with Iran, at a time when the United States is already facing a nuclear standoff with North Korea, would court the prospect of a two-front war—an act of self-sabotage.

Gutting a deal that Americans conceived, brokered, and secured would also undercut decades of U.S. leadership on nonproliferation.

Indeed, in the past two weeks there have been a number of indicators of the President’s growing political instability. On October 7th, Trump, having ridiculed Tillerson for seeking a negotiated solution with North Korea, all but threatened an attack, tweeting, “Sorry, but only one thing will work!”

Last week, NBC reported that, during a Pentagon briefing, Trump called for a nearly tenfold increase in the nuclear arsenal. National-security aides were unnerved—any such increase would violate a raft of disarmament treaties and set off a global arms race. The President and his aides denied the account, and he tweeted that it might be time to challenge NBC’s broadcast licenses.

Decertifying the Iran agreement would fracture the United States’ credibility among its original partners in the deal. It would open a rift with China just as it is weighing whether to join the United States again, this time in negotiating with North Korea.

Global Times, a state-backed Chinese newspaper, has asked, “If America would overturn a pact it made to the rest of the world, solely because of a transition in government, how can it retain the reputation of a great power?”

The harm to America’s full faith and credit would be particularly acute in Pyongyang. A decision to undermine the signature foreign-policy deal of a previous Administration would tilt the balance away from North Korean officials who argue for compromise. The more hawkish cohorts will feel emboldened during internal deliberations against people in the diplomatic, intelligence, and economic communities.

A nation’s credibility is the type of asset that is easy to overlook, until an emergency makes it precious. During the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy dispatched former Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Paris to inform President Charles de Gaulle that the Administration had decided to stage a naval blockade of Cuba.

Acheson offered to show surveillance photographs of the island’s missile sites, but de Gaulle waved them away, saying, “The word of the President of the United States is enough for me.” History suggests that President Trump’s disdain for even the achievements of his predecessor is most damaging not in the eyes of America’s enemies but in the eyes of its friends.

Fast Facts: Revisiting the Iran Nuclear Deal

Connie Lin

Recently Trump has been giving the Iran Nuclear Deal some serious side-eye, calling it “the worst deal ever,” having decertified it last month.

Background

In the past, the international community has tried to prevent Iran, a nation known for funding terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, from obtaining nuclear weapons through economic sanctions. (Although Iran claims that it wants to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.) Iran has claimed to want to eliminate Israel, causing some tension in the country. Negotiations within the international community about curbing Iran’s nuclear developments have spanned years, and the deal was finally ratified in 2015.  

What’s in it?

Essentially, the international community (including US, EU, Russia, China) has agreed to remove the economic sanctions and in return, Iran has agreed to reduce its uranium stockpile, decreasing its chance of producing nuclear weapons. However, the deal is not permanent, with the limits on centrifuges and uranium ending in 2025. Iran refuses to completely discard its nuclear development program, claiming that its programs are used for peaceful purposes.

So where’s the controversy? Everywhere.

All the Perspectives

The Yays:

Obama’s Administration

Supporters of the deal argue that Iran has been complying with the terms , making it very difficult for Iran to create a nuclear weapon in a short period of time, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran

Of course, Iran is hugely in favor of the status quo, because it removed economic sanctions, causing billions of dollars of oil revenue to flow in. Iran’s foreign minister Zarif responded to Trump’s announcement of decertification by saying the decision will undermine U.S. credibility.

Russia

Russia, a supporter of the Iran Deal, is an ally of the Assad regime in Syria along with Iran. Putin told the Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei ““We oppose any unilateral change in the multilateral nuclear deal”

Europe

Britain, Germany, and France released a joint statement in support of the Iran Deal. Their rationale is that hopefully keeping the Iran Deal would convince nations like North Korea that developing nuclear weapons is not necessary for their security.

The Nays:

Trump

Trump claims the Iranian government isn’t trustworthy and that the deal has emboldened Iran’s military expansion in the region, contrary to American security interests (e.g. assisting Assad, the Syrian dictator and detaining American sailors). Iran’s frequent ballistic missile tests are also troubling, because they might be able to carry a nuclear warhead, although this issue isn’t specifically covered by the deal. Furthermore, suspicion has been raised about the credibility of the inspections, especially since the IAEA itself has admitted to be unable to ensure Iran’s full compliance. The UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is rumored to be the strongest opponent of the Iran Deal in Trump’s administration, in contrast to Secretary of State Tillerson.

Israel

Israel, seeing Iran as a threat, believes that the deal does not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has expressed cautious concern over the Iran deal. There is a long history of animosity between the Iran and Saudi Arabia that is difficult to put in few words. You can read about it in depth here.

 

My Life and Mass Casualties

The first mass casualty shooting I vividly remember was on Friday, December 14, 2012. I was in sixth grade. I remember staying home that day since I had the flu and turning on the television to watch the news. From there, the cameramen showed an aerial view of a school and the caption read something along the lines of “Active Shooter in Elementary School.” This day would be remembered in U.S. history as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

There have been more mass casualty incidents since then. Oddly enough, every time such events took place, I remember exactly what I was doing. The Boston Marathon bombing. The Charleston church shootings. The Paris attacks. The Pulse nightclub shooting.

Then on Monday morning, I, like most teens, checked Twitter on my phone. Headlines across my home page read that there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas. Later, when I sat down to eat breakfast, I had asked my mom, “Did you hear about Las Vegas?”

These are just some of the few memorable mass casualties throughout my lifetime. In my parents’ lifetime, from 1966 to today, there has been 90 mass shooting events in the United States alone, accounting for 31 percent of all public shootings in the world.

What does this mean for us living here? Do we need stricter gun control laws? Or are we just so divided? An analysis by CNN shows that states with stricter regulations on gun magazines have lower casualty rates. However, Chicago, according to the Trump Administration, is proof that stricter gun control laws are not associated with a lower crime rate.

What causes people to use their weapons as a means of harm may remain a mystery to some. It is easy (and sometimes proven) that mass shootings are hate crimes or terrorist attacks. But not all can fall into those categories. In the most recent attack in Las Vegas, the gunman’s motives remain unknown.

In August, I was able to travel to Boston. Carved into a sidewalk,  I saw a small memorial towards those who died in the Boston Marathon. Further down the street was a trumpet player with a sign for world peace and love who could play the anthem of any country asked. A reminder that if hate can be preached, so can love.

– Liana Salehian

Fast Facts: What You Need to Know about the Catalonia’s Referendum

Fall is for pumpkin spice lattes, dead leaves, and ugly break-ups.

What happened?

Following the Kurdish referendum on September 25, Catalonia, an autonomous Spanish region that includes Barcelona, voted to secede from Spain with a 90 percent majority on October 1.

So what?

Catalonia accounts for one-fifth of Spain’s economic output, so secession would be overall devastating to Spain.

Why now?

Catalonia has been trying to gain independence from Spain for decades. Catalans have a language and culture distinct from the Spanish, and they argue that they have been paying excessive taxes to compensate for the poorer regions of Spain.

Recently, Catalan separatists claim that the Spanish federal government is behaving in a way that is reminiscent of Franco-style dictatorship.

World Leaders React

Predictably, Spain isn’t too hyped about the break-up. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy argues that the referendum is unconstitutional and took forceful measures to try to prevent it.

As for the United States, Trump said regarding the issue I think Spain is a great country, and it should remain united.

The President of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, released a formal statement :“this is an internal matter for Spain that has to be dealt with in line with the constitutional order of Spain.”

What now?

The Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the regional parliament for Monday, but pro-independence leaders plan on declaring independence on Tuesday, October 10. Meanwhile, Spain eased certain restrictions on business, causing some major corporations and banks in Catalonia to begin relocation planning.

Public debt is going to be a key issue in the negotiations. Catalonia owes around 35% of its current GDP, and most of it is owed to the Spanish government. The Spanish government might also request Catalonia to shoulder a portion of the national debt.

-Connie Lin