Over the past week, we’ve seen a flurry of communications from the Trump administration about Iran and the Iran nuclear agreement, known as the JCPOA.
Some of it has been reassuring — but much of it has been cause for real concern.
Early last week, the administration sent a letter to Congress certifying that Iran continues to be “compliant with its commitments” under the Iran nuclear agreement. It’s the first official recognition we’ve seen from the Trump White House that the agreement is succeeding in blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — and that Iran is upholding its commitments.
The administration is mandated to provide these periodic updates to Congress, and there’s no doubt that they issued this one through gritted teeth. During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump routinely attacked and mocked the agreement as “the worst deal ever.” Now he’s forced to acknowledge that it’s working.
But we know that this president and those around him will do anything to avoid admitting they were wrong. Instead of accepting that the deal has successfully defanged Iran’s nuclear program, they’re misleadingly trying to change the terms of the debate and obscure the facts.
In a speech to press the day after the certification, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrongly claimed that the agreement “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran; it only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”
That’s simply false: The agreement permanently bans Iran from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons, and includes permanent verification measures to make sure that they don’t.
Tillerson said that the administration would completely review whether it should continue to uphold the agreement, because it failed to curtail Iran’s destabilizing actions including its support for terrorism, missile program and human rights violations. The President echoed him later in the week, accusing Iran of “not living up to the spirit of the agreement” and once again calling the deal “terrible.”
There can be no doubt: Those Iranian regime behaviors are dangerous and destructive to US and Israeli interests, and they must be challenged and addressed.
But they fall firmly outside the scope of the nuclear agreement. The whole purpose of the JCPOA, pure and simple, was to keep a dangerous actor like Iran from ever obtaining nuclear weapons — and it is succeeding.
By misrepresenting the goals and accomplishments of the JCPOA, the Trump administration may be laying the groundwork to reimpose sanctions that would violate and end the agreement. That would be the reckless and counterproductive action of leaders who value hawkish bluster over serious strategy, and posturing over results.
It’s possible that all this is simply talk — and that the President intends to keep the deal in place. But this rhetoric still risks empowering hardliners in Iran. It also provides an impetus to legislation now pending in the Senate that, as currently written, includes measures that could violate the US’ commitment to the nuclear agreement.
J Street has urged Senators to change the legislation so that it does not violate or undermine the agreement. As we made clear during the initial Congressional debate over the JCPOA, no international agreement is perfect. But a deal backed by the international community that keeps nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands is vital for the security of our country and our allies. Undermining it now would only empower Iranian hardliners and could put us back on the path to war.
We support efforts to sanction and stop Iran’s dangerous regional activities while keeping the restraints on its nuclear program firmly in place. We’re going to keep fighting for a foreign policy that can confront complex threats like Iran without foolishly rejecting the accomplishments of diplomacy.
As the US faces major international challenges and threats, it’s vital that our leaders pursue pragmatic solutions, not partisan politics and saber-rattling. By defending and preserving the Iran nuclear agreement and its achievements, J Street is fighting for responsible foreign policy to make our world safer.
The Iran nuclear agreement blocks all four of Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon -- making the US, Israel and the world safer. Some politicians have vowed to tear up the deal -- and we can't afford to let that happen.
Through the Iran deal, the international community blocked all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, without firing a single shot.