1242 GMT September 23, 2020
When it comes to the Iranian nuclear deal, the Trump administration is a carnival of contradiction. Its attitude brings to mind the story of the inmates who complained that the prison food was terrible and they weren’t allowed seconds.
In his tirade at the United Nations, the president said the accord is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” During the campaign, he promised to dismantle it. But eight months after he took office, his administration is still abiding by it.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley insists that Trump “has grounds” to assert that Iran is not complying. But Trump has twice certified that Tehran has upheld its end of the bargain. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged Wednesday that Iran is in “technical compliance” — which is true in the same sense that Tillerson is technically secretary of state.
He had the chance to lay out any violations during a meeting Thursday with his counterparts from the other signatory governments. But European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who chaired the meeting, said “all agreed” that Iran is complying — including, she stipulated, the United States.
Tillerson, however, is not satisfied just because Iran has done what it agreed to do. He resents that some of the provisions that restrict Iran have expiration dates. But you would think the best thing about a bad agreement is that it doesn’t run forever. You would want the terms to be permanent only if you think it’s desirable.
The accord is highly desirable, because it deprives Iran of the means to build a nuclear weapon for a long time. [Iran has always said it has no intention of ever acquiring nuclear weapons]. It forced Iran to shut down most of its centrifuges, surrender 97 percent of its fissile material, convert two reactors to peaceful uses and accept stringent international inspections. In exchange, Iran got the removal of some economic sanctions and access to $100 billion in assets that had been frozen abroad.
The disadvantage of preserving the deal is that it lets Iran expand the number of operating centrifuges after 10 years and the stockpile of enriched uranium after 15 years. The disadvantage of renouncing the deal is that it would let Iran do those things immediately.
Giving up the restrictions because they won’t be in place after 2030 is like abandoning your car on the side of the road today because it will eventually stop running. It would make more sense to negotiate an extension.
Backing out of the agreement would be even worse than not reaching it in the first place. That’s because Iran has already gotten a large share of what it sought — notably, the $100 billion it was able to reclaim. If Trump were to shred the agreement, Iran would get to keep the money without having to keep its promises. I don’t think that decision would merit a chapter in the next edition of “The Art of the Deal.”
If Trump were to renounce the accord, he would be violating an agreement that the international inspectors say Iran has fulfilled. He would be proving to Iran and the other parties to the deal — Germany, Britain, France, the European Union, Russia and China — that Washington’s word is no good. As for pursuing a better deal, why would Iran ever sign another agreement with us?
The above is excerpts from an article that Steve Chapman blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/chapman.
* Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune Editorial Board.