September 26, 2017 | The Wall Street Journal

How Trump Can Improve the Iran Deal

Co-authored by David Albright.

Powerful voices at home and abroad are pressuring President Trump to give his blessing to his predecessor’s nuclear agreement with Iran. Mr. Trump has repeatedly pledged to renegotiate the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or scrap it altogether. There is a way for him to highlight the agreement’s egregious deficiencies while showing his determination to improve the deal or leave it. We call this strategy “decertify, waive, slap and fix.”

The president should follow through on his commitments by refusing to certify the JCPOA under the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. That law requires Mr. Trump to certify every 90 days that Iran is fully implementing the nuclear deal and hasn’t significantly advanced its nuclear-weapons program. Additionally he must certify whether the suspension of sanctions remains vital to U.S. national-security interests and proportionate to Iran’s efforts to terminate its illicit nuclear programs. The next 90-day deadline is Oct. 15.

If the president continues to certify the JCPOA, inertia and the status quo will probably capture him the way a policy of “strategic patience” on North Korea got Mr. Obama. This will effectively guarantee the clerical regime pathways to missile-delivered nuclear weapons.

The JCPOA is a prelude to a Middle Eastern version of the North Korean mess. It gives the clerical regime sunset-expiring restrictions, advanced centrifuges, intercontinental ballistic missiles, the ability to frustrate U.N. inspectors’ access to military sites where Tehran has conducted secret nuclear-weapons and uranium-enrichment work in the past, and tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief, with hundreds of billions to follow. The Iranians will continue to run amok in the Middle East, using foreign cash to pay for their imperialism.

The president should refuse to certify for another reason: The nuclear deal’s fundamentally flawed architecture—not just how it is enforced—makes it too dangerous to continue. By patiently following the deal the Islamic Republic can gain nuclear weapons, as well as a nuclear-capable arsenal of missiles giving it regional hegemony and the ability to threaten the United States. It also will have a powerful economy immunized against sanctions pressure by the time the JCPOA restrictions expire. Allowing this is not in the “vital national security interests of the United States.”

Decertifying doesn’t mean breaking the deal. That happens only if the U.S. reimposes sanctions that have been lifted or suspended under the JCPOA. On Sept. 14, as required by the JCPOA, the president again waived nuclear-related sanctions, this time on Iran’s central bank and oil exports. He accompanied this “waive” with a “slap” imposing new sanctions on companies and individuals connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and recent cyberattacks. An engineering company working with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was also targeted.

These sanctions, which are fully compliant with the JCPOA, are a decent start. But Mr. Trump must do more. He should designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, as Congress has required he do by Oct. 31. He should also instruct the Treasury to blacklist companies with Revolutionary Guard and military ownership, which represent about 20% of the total market capitalization of the Tehran Stock Exchange. He should redesignate Iran Air (which is buying planes from Boeing and Airbus) as a terrorist entity for airlifting weapons and fighters to Syria. All these measures are consistent with the JCPOA.

We propose the president “fix” U.S. policy by making it clear he does not accept the Iran deal’s dangerous flaws. He should insist on conditions making permanent the current restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and the testing of advanced centrifuges and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, as well as the buying and transferring of conventional weaponry. He must insist on unfettered access for U.N. weapons inspectors to Iranian military sites.

Congress should do its part to help fix the deal. Reinstating the JCPOA sanctions after decertification would ruin the “decertify, waive, slap and fix” approach. To persuade Republicans, who are the most likely to vote to reinstate JCPOA sanctions that have been waived or lifted, the administration needs to demonstrate a comprehensive strategy to fix the deal and use all instruments of American power to neutralize and roll back Iranian aggression. Democrats should help fix the deal or explain to Americans why a brutally repressive and aggressive Iranian regime should have a North Korean-style glide path to dozens of nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

The Europeans are already responding to Mr. Trump’s threats to walk away from the deal. French President Emmanuel Macron has said he’s willing to consider supplementing the agreement to address the sunset provisions and missiles. European leaders who want to preserve the accord are now working on a U.S.-EU consensus on ways to fix it. They should outline conditions under which trans-Atlantic sanctions would be reinstated if Iran doesn’t play ball. Otherwise, they can watch Mr. Trump exit the deal and use the considerable financial power of the U.S. to force European banks and companies to choose between America’s $19 trillion market and Iran’s $400 billion one.

Decertification is the critical first step of a strategy to prevent the Islamic Republic of Iran from becoming a nuclear state. The famously blunt Mr. Trump must send an unambiguous message to Tehran’s clerics: His administration will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, nor can it abide by the agreement as it stands. But the strategy doesn’t depend on Iranian acquiescence. It gives the Europeans a chance to come on board to fix the deal in order to save it.

If they don’t, the consequences could be severe.

Mr. Dubowitz is the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Mr. Albright is president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Follow Mark on Twitter @mdubowitz

Follow the the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.


Iran Iran Sanctions