NEW YORK — In public, in private, and with few exceptions, world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week are urging President Donald Trump not to follow through on his threat to derail the Iran nuclear deal. But so far, Trump shows no sign of ...
NEW YORK — In public, in private, and with few exceptions, world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week are urging President Donald Trump not to follow through on his threat to derail the Iran nuclear deal.
But so far, Trump shows no sign of listening to them. And some diplomats and supporters of the agreement even worry the efforts could backfire by triggering Trump’s defiantly contrarian instincts.
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The issue will take center stage on Wednesday, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joins a multinational meeting on the nuclear deal that will also be attended by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the first time the two men will meet face-to-face. The session is being held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
The meeting will come a day after Trump said in his Tuesday address to the U.N.’s annual gathering that the nuclear deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” and “an embarrassment to the U.S.”
But Trump offered no specific clues about his plans, saying only, “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me."
Former aides to President Barack Obama are growing increasingly worried that Trump will reject the advice of some of this top advisers and declare Tehran in violation of the agreement, struck in July 2015 by Iran, the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany. That would open the door Congress to reimpose sanctions that many experts say could provoke Iran to restart its nuclear program.
Officials from several nations have communicated their concerns to Trump, as well as to White House and State Department officials, foreign diplomats and analysts briefed on the conversations told POLITICO.
European leaders and diplomats have urged Trump not to jeopardize the agreement, whose demise they fear could lead to military conflict. French President Emmanuel Macron has led the charge, using his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday to urge the parties to the agreement to stick with it.
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“Renouncing it would be a grave error, not respecting it would be irresponsible, because it is a good accord that is essential to peace at a time where the risk of an infernal conflagration cannot be excluded,” Macron said.
Macron also met with Trump on Monday, though Trump aides would not detail their conversation about the nuclear deal.
The lobbying effort leaves some of the deal’s supporters conflicted. Trump advisers have said he sometimes rebels against being told what to do, a factor some think triggered his vow to pull out of the 2014 Paris climate accord.
“We have an unmoored flame-thrower in the Oval Office who acts more out of spite and reprisal than principle," said Ned Price, a former Obama National Security Council spokesman who helped make the official case for the nuclear deal.
Trump has already passed up several chances to quit the nuclear deal. But he's now mulling throwing the matter to Congress by refusing to certify by a mid-October deadline that Iran is in compliance with the agreement. That "de-certification” would give the GOP-controlled Congress 60 days to re-impose sanctions on Iran and kill the deal.
International inspectors have declared that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal, although Trump officials have said Tehran has violated its “spirit” with missile tests and an aggressive foreign policy across the Middle East and want to hold Iran accountable in other areas.
Under Obama, "the Iran deal became a proxy for an Iran policy," Brian Hook, a top State Department’s official, told reporters in a Monday briefing here.
"We are trying to take a comprehensive approach and bringing in all of Iran’s activities -- terrorism, nukes, missiles, regional instability -- so that we're not substituting the Iran deal for an Iran policy,” Hook said.
Critics of the deal hope that a de-certification by Trump might scare Iran into renegotiating a new, tougher agreement. But the deal's supporters fear the move will simply enrage Iran's Islamist government, turn off U.S. allies and lead to the deal's collapse.
"The key ones -- France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and China are telling them that Trump would be opening a Pandora’s box to proliferation in the Middle East if he takes steps to unravel the nuclear deal and that it's not 'renegotiable,' said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a group that has strongly supported the deal.
There are no public signs so far that Trump’s tough talk about the nuclear agreement is having any effect on Iran’s leadership. In an interview with NBC News broadcast Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said "no one will trust America again" if Trump disrupts the deal. Rouhani is due to address the General Assembly on Wednesday.
And after Trump’s Tuesday address—which blasted the Iranian regime as corrupt and tyrannical— Zarif tweeted that the U.S. president's “ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times” and was “unworthy of a reply."
A State Department official recently confirmed to POLITICO that European allies have warned that they will "push back" if the U.S. tries to crack down on European businesses working in Iran through so-called secondary sanctions.
Both European and Asian leaders are especially worried that backtracking on the Iran deal could lead North Korea to dispense with any possibility of negotiating over its nuclear program.
Arab countries hostile to Iran have mostly been quiet on the subject. Many opposed the nuclear deal but see little value in the likely disruption caused by its demise. “It's not high on our list" of things to discuss with the administration, one Arab official told POLITICO.
Trump has at least one prominent defender: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In his Tuesday speech here, the Israeli leader emphasized that a key weakness of the deal is that some of its provisions will expire starting within a decade. At that point, Netanyahu warned, Iran will be able to resume its nuclear program after having received economic relief from lifted sanctions.
"That's why Israel's policy regarding the nuclear deal with Iran is very simple: Change it or cancel it. Fix it or nix it," Netanyahu said.
Caught between competing arguments, some analysts think Trump might look once again to his favorite foil: Obama.
"It's his own internal logic chain,” said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. "It all starts from his prime directive, which is to dismantle everything that his predecessor has done.”
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