The idea of ‘decertifying’ the agreement but staying in it is too cute by half. Trump should cut cleanly.
By John Bolton
Sept. 28, 2017 6:32 p.m. ET
‘Cut, and cut cleanly,” Sen. Paul Laxalt advised Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, urging the Philippine president to resign and flee Manila because of widespread civil unrest. The Nevada Republican, Ronald Reagan’s best friend in Congress, knew what his president wanted, and he made the point with customary Western directness.
President Trump could profitably follow Mr. Laxalt’s advice today regarding Barack Obama’s 2015 deal with Iran. The ayatollahs are using Mr. Obama’s handiwork to legitimize their terrorist state, facilitate (and conceal) their continuing nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs, and acquire valuable resources from gullible negotiating partners.
Mr. Trump’s real decision is whether to fulfill his campaign promise to extricate America from this strategic debacle. Last week at the United Nations General Assembly, he lacerated the deal as an “embarrassment,” “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
Fearing the worst, however, the deal’s acolytes are actively obscuring this central issue, arguing that it is too arduous and too complex to withdraw cleanly. They have seized instead on a statutory requirement that every 90 days the president must certify, among other things, that adhering to the agreement is in America’s national-security interest. They argue the president should stay in the deal but not make the next certification, due in October.
This morganatic strategy is a poorly concealed ploy to block withdrawal, limp through Mr. Trump’s presidency, and resurrect the deal later. Paradoxically, supporters are not now asserting that the deal is beneficial. Instead, they concede its innumerable faults but argue that it can be made tougher, more verifiable and more strictly enforced. Or, if you want more, it can be extended, kicked to Congress, or deferred during the North Korea crisis. Whatever.
As Richard Nixon said during Watergate: “I want you to stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up, or anything else if it’ll save it—save the plan.”
Mr. Trump should not be deceived. The issue is not certification. The issue is whether we will protect U.S. interests and shatter the illusion that Mr. Obama’s deal is achieving its stated goals, or instead timidly hope for the best while trading with the enemy, as the Europeans are doing. It is too cute by half to employ pettifoggery to evade this reality.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231 embodies the deal and includes two annexes: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action itself, and a statement by the other negotiating parties on “transparency . . . creating an atmosphere conducive” to full JCPOA implementation.
Resolution 2231, the JCPOA and the statement were all crafted word-for-word with Iran (with Russia and China acting as Tehran’s scriveners on the statement), as was the cash-for-hostages swap Mr. Obama sought desperately to conceal. This packaging is more than a diplomatic nicety. It means Iran’s ballistic-missile program is integral to the deal—fittingly, since Iran’s missiles would deliver its nuclear warheads.
The ayatollahs have neither the desire nor the incentive to renegotiate even a comma of the agreement. Why should they, when it is entirely to their advantage?
Both Resolution 2231 and the statement, for example, “call upon” Iran to forgo activity regarding “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
The U.N. secretary-general recently reported that Iran is violating this provision and implicitly lying about it. But the deal’s language allows Iran to claim solemnly that its missiles are not “designed” to carry nuclear warheads, an assertion whose verification would require polygraphs and psychologists, not weapons inspectors. This is one of many textual loopholes.
If the deal is vitiated, Tehran would not be freer than it is now to pursue nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Not only is the international compliance regime a far cry from Mr. Obama’s promised “anytime, anywhere” inspections, crucial language is vague and ambiguous.
Mr. Obama’s negotiators crippled real international verification by pre-emptively surrendering on what were delicately termed “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program.
Moreover, simple economic logic suggests that Tehran’s scientists are probably enjoying Pyongyang’s hospitality, well beyond the International Atomic Energy Agency’s limited capability to detect.
Even U.S. intelligence could be in the dark if Iran is renting a uranium enrichment facility under a North Korean mountain. It is specious to assert that the North Korean nuclear crisis should lead to deferring action on the Iran deal. The conclusion should be precisely the opposite: Failure to act decisively on Iran now worsens the global proliferation threat.
The IAEA has interpreted Mr. Obama’s possible-military-dimension concession as requiring new evidence before it attempts to visit Tehran’s military bases, where the real work on weaponization and missiles is taking place—if not under mountains in North Korea.
Mr. Obama acquiesced in this emasculation of the IAEA’s will to inspect, making the agency today like the drunk looking for his car keys under a street lamp because the light is better there. This is a sorry caricature of a robust, Reaganesque “trust but verify” regime.
Perhaps the most inane argument is that Congress should decide the deal’s fate and whether to reimpose U.S. sanctions. If a president is unwilling to solve this kind of problem, he shouldn’t have applied for the job.
Watching what has happened on failed legislative efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare, can anyone doubt that Senate Democrats (joined by Rand Paul ) would filibuster any legislative effort to renew sanctions?
The only sure way to resume economic pressure on Iran is for President Trump to stop waiving the sanctions, as he did a few weeks ago. The power to act is in executive hands, as it should be.
Mr. Trump knows his mind on Iran. And as Mr. Laxalt said to Marcos, “the time has come” to act decisively.
Mr. Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad” (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
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