Thanks to expected reactionary behavior from Iran, the aftermath of the U.S. decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran deal has been chaotic and messy, leading the Trump administration to give the impression they may be willing to negotiate anew with Iran, and pundits likewise wondering just how much a new deal might differ from Barack Obama’s original agreement.
Iran is poised to violate the original nuclear deal it established with former President Barack Obama for the third time in 4 months, setting a new, November deadline for additional potential violations in an attempt, according to both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, to give European signatories another two months to save the deal they also signed.
Tehran is pushing European nations such as France to do more to help save the deal in spite of France offering Tehran a $15 billion credit line if they will return to full compliance. Instead of accepting that offer, Iranian leaders indicated this week a desire to start development of advanced centrifuges in violation of the deal.
While France has expressed dismay at this decision, Trump has indicated a willingness to talk to Iran — although he said lifting sanctions is off the table — raising the eyebrows of who saw the new “maximum pressure” approach as a rebuke of the Obama era’s conciliatory stance toward the Middle Eastern nation.
Separately, the United States refused to ease its economic sanctions on Iran; imposed fresh ones designed to choke off the smuggling of Iranian oil; and rebuffed, but did not rule out, the French plan to give Tehran a $15 billion credit line.
The moves suggested that Iran, the United States and the major European powers may be leaving the door open for diplomacy to try resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear program, even as they largely stuck to entrenched positions.
Those who saw Trump’s move to disengage from the Iran nuclear deal as a rebuke of Obama’s questionable foreign policy legacy — and Obama had overtly linked his legacy to the 2015 deal — are being told by some media outlets that they should rethink that notion.
In July, Politico reported Trump’s willingness to engage with Iran on a newer, better deal looked a lot like the tactic the Obama administration used in striking the deal originally.
Trump has repeatedly urged Iran to engage in negotiations with him, while saying that Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are his chief concern — “A lot of progress has been made. And they'd like to talk,” Trump asserted Tuesday at the White House. His aides and allies, meanwhile, have recently suggested that Iran and other countries should follow the guidelines of a deal they themselves have shunned as worthless.
At times, analysts and former officials say, it sounds like Trump wants to strike a deal that essentially mirrors the agreement that his White House predecessor inked — even if he’d never be willing to admit it. Iranian officials seem willing to egg him on, saying they’ll talk so long as Trump lifts the sanctions he’s imposed on them and returns to the 2015 Iran deal. And as European ministers warn that the existing deal is nearly extinct, Trump may feel like he is backed into a corner and running out of options.
On Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told The Hudson Institute of his concern that “deep state”, legacy Obama-era employees still working at the Departments of Defense and State may be trying to convince Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to keep portions of the original deal in place by allowing for oil waivers that give Iranians the ability to sell millions of barrels of oil a day.
The senator said that Trump is surrounded by the deep state. “Their overarching objective is to prevent this administration from dismantling the Iran deal completely, because they believe one of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates is going to win. We’ve all seen the debate stages Tweedledum and Tweedle-dumber, and every one of them would eagerly reinstate the Iran deal.
“If you look at the debates,” he continued, “very little of what they’ve talked about is foreign policy [but] it has been almost universally, anti-Israel and weakening our military.” He called Trump to “finish the job” and end the waivers, so “there will be no deal to reinstate.
Whichever the direction the Trump administration chooses to go, it’s clear that most Democratic candidates for president would prefer to stay in the original deal. While that’s probably not a good enough reason to immediately change course and shut down the possibility of further negotiations, the Trump administration may not need to do much of anything: the bad behavior of the Iranian regime seems to be doing the work of turning away nations like France who had an interest in retaining the original agreement.
In short, Iran may not need anyone’s help to further isolate themselves. They could end up without any deal based on their behavior alone.
Sarah Lee is a freelance writer and policy wonk living and working in Washington, DC.