One of the signature foreign policy achievements of the Obama administration – and certainly one of the most controversial things he did – was the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. One of the stipulations of that deal is that the president must certify it every 90 days as a show of confidence that Iran is holding up its end of the bargain. President Trump has done so twice already, but he has indicated that he may not certify the deal a third time.
The lifting of sanctions is dependent on Iran restricting its nuclear programme. It must restrict its uranium stockpile, build no more heavy-water reactors for 15 years, and allow inspectors in to the country.
Mr Trump has repeatedly said Iran has broken the “spirit” of the deal.
Trump has until October 15 to decide what to do. If the president chooses not to certify the deal himself, the matter goes before Congress, who has 60 days to decide whether it believes that Iran is acting in good faith. Some are saying that Congress will leave the deal in place, but if Congress chooses not to re-certify the deal, the United State will impose strict sanctions on Iran.
So, what’s behind the change of heart? Why has Trump suddenly decided he won’t stay the course? The president has long been a critic of the deal, so there’s little surprise that he would reject it at some point.
He elaborated recently to the press:
Speaking in the White House’s Cabinet Room, President Trump said: “The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence and chaos across the Middle East.
“That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions. You will be hearing about Iran very shortly.”
The BBC is suggesting that the president could be seeking to have his cake and eat it too by passing the buck to Congress. That seems to make sense. By punting on the deal, Trump can wash his hands of a piece of policy that he has criticized repeatedly while passing the responsibility for rocking the boat – or not – to Congress.
Is this a shrewd move by a skilled deal-maker, or is this the cowardly act of a politician who doesn’t want to be responsible for making waves? Either way, and regardless of the outcome, Donald Trump can’t avoid looking like the guy who is letting other people deal with the problems he should be solving.