Donald Trump announced Monday that he will reveal whether he intends to violate the United States’ nuclear agreement with Iran tomorrow. In a mid-afternoon tweet, the leader of the free world teased his upcoming diplomatic decision as though it were a reality show finale.
Trump did not need to make this decision tomorrow. The deadline for action won’t come until May 12, when the president will need to renew a waiver on America’s nuclear sanctions against Iran — or else, violate the terms of the Obama-era agreement that froze Tehran’s atomic weapons program.
The first option has much to recommend it: The agreement has successfully halted Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, according to international inspectors; America’s European allies insist that they will continue to honor the deal even if the U.S. pulls out (and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has vowed to return the favor); and the White House is currently trying to persuade North Korea to denuclearize, a task that requires convincing Pyongyang that the U.S. can be trusted to uphold its promises to rogue states.
On the other hand, the Iran deal was a “win” for Barack Obama; Israel doesn’t like it; and Trump promised on the campaign trail to tear it up.
America’s EU allies have been scrambling to convince Trump that the former considerations should override the latter. Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson lobbied for the deal’s survival in Washington Monday. Johnson laid out his case for the agreement in a New York Times op-ed — and then took his case directly to the president (by appearing on Fox & Friends). Meanwhile, Germany and France announced their intention to honor the agreement, no matter what Trump decides. Without the cooperation of America’s EU allies, Trump’s capacity to impose biting economic sanctions on Iran will be somewhat limited: Tehran has far stronger trade ties with Europe than with the U.S., and so, has relatively little to lose from America pulling out of the nuclear agreement, so long as Britain, France, and the U.K. remain in it.
To this point, Trump has found ways to renew the Iran agreement while still castigating it as a disaster. For most of his first year, he accomplished that task by recertifying the agreement quietly. Last time, he did so by loudly “decertifying” the agreement — while still, technically, keeping the U.S. a party to it.
Thus, the fact that the president is so eager to draw attention to his decision might be an ominous sign for those who support America’s participation in the Iran deal. But it’s also possible that Trump has found a new half-measure he can conspicuously announce, while giving his new secretary of State more time to work out a modified, “tougher” version of the agreement with those disagreeable Europeans.