In a statement Friday, President Donald Trump said that “based on the factual record I have put forward, I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification,” of the nuclear deal with Iran.

In accordance with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (or Corker-Cardin Bill), Congress now has 60 days to fix terms of the deal – the sunset clauses that allow Iran to ramp up its nuclear program after the accord expires, its ballistic missile program – that Trump is demanding are addressed. If Congress does not act, Trump said “the agreement will be terminated.”

Trump’s remarks were not limited to the nuclear deal but are part of an overall refocus of American strategy towards Iran, which were laid out elsewhere on the White House website.

Unified Strategy to Stop Iranian Terror and Expansion

What is  clear from Trump’s remarks is that he doesn’t view the nuclear as separate from the issue of Iran’s aggressive behavior throughout the Middle East.

By its own terms, the Iran Deal was supposed to contribute to “regional and international peace and security.” And yet, while the United States adheres to our commitment under the deal, the Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.

So today, in recognition of the increasing menace posed by Iran, and after extensive consultations with our allies, I am announcing a new strategy to address the full range of Iran’s destructive actions.

In addition to refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, the big news from Trump on Friday is that he instructed the Treasury Department to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorists organization.

This is important as the IRGC is Iran’s primary force for exporting its revolution (and terrorism) abroad, it answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and it controls an estimated one sixth of Iran’s economy, often through front companies. The IRGC is also one of the major beneficiaries of the nuclear deal, as many experts had predicted. (Trump critics who claim that his decision to decertify the deal strengthen Iran’s hardliners are simply making things up. The deal already did that.)

Deal Supporters Pounce – But Ignore Reality

The critics of decertification almost unanimously claim that Trump’s action is being taken despite eight International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports since implementation of the deal showing Iran in compliance. This, of course, neglects the inconvenient fact that the IAEA reports have shown Iran to be in violation of limits on the heavy water it had under its control, the amount enriched uranium it had and other questionable activities.

To be sure these violations were subsequently corrected, but to give Iran the benefit of the doubt after it spent years defying the IAEA and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is absurd. These were likely attempts by Iran to test international resolve, there’s no reason to assume they were accidental. A violation later corrected is still a violation. (It also highlights a weakness of the deal: no penalties were dictated for minor Iranian violations to ensure it would adhere strictly to the deal.)

But aside from the minor violations, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told Reuters last month that the IAEA had not verified Iran’s compliance with Section T of Annex 1 of the nuclear deal. These activities include computer simulations of nuclear explosions and designing multi-point detonation systems, that “could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Nonproliferation expert and former weapons inspector, David Albright, currently president of the Institute for Science and International Security, assessed that Amano’s revelation showed that “the deal is not fully implemented.”

Iran said that it would not allow the IAEA to verify its compliance with Section T, and Russia stated that the IAEA has no authority to “police” those terms of the deal. United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley responded that Russia was shielding Iran.

Albright noted that that “full implementation is a requirement for the President to certify under INARA (Corker-Cardin). Lack of verification of Section T would also demonstrate that the deal does not deliver like promised and promoted by deal supporters.” (President Barack Obama said in his American University speech defending the deal asserted that the deal represented “offered a more effective, verifiable and durable resolution” to Iran’s illicit nuclear program.

IAEA Inspections Ignore Critical Part of Deal

The controversy over Section T recalls the final report of the IAEA on Iran’s past nuclear research prior to implementation of the nuclear deal in December 2015, found that Iran had been designing a nuclear weapons until at least 2009, including the “computer modeling of nuclear explosive device.” (Simulations of nuclear explosions are one of the things that must be are one of the items to be monitored according to the deal.)

The New York Times reported at the time:

But while the International Atomic Energy Agency detailed a long list of experiments Iran had conducted that were “relevant to a nuclear explosive device,” it found no evidence that the effort succeeded in developing a complete blueprint for a bomb.

In part, that may have been because Iran refused to answer several essential questions, and appeared to have destroyed potential evidence in others.

The Times observed further, “Iran’s refusal to cooperate on central points could set a dangerous precedent as the United Nations agency tries to convince other countries with nuclear technology that they must fully answer queries to determine if they have a secret weapons program.”

Back in 2015, despite outstanding questions about Iran’s past nuclear weapons work remaining, the IAEA investigation was shut down lest it interfere with implementation of the deal.

Section T, and the 2015 report show that sometimes the IAEA didn’t find problem because it didn’t look thoroughly enough. Or more precisely because Iran would not let it investigate more thoroughly. At no point, before now, did the United States or any of its partners insist that Iran cooperate completely.

In both cases a weakness of the deal was exposed. The biggest problem with the nuclear is not what is covered, but what is not covered, and that Iran is allowed to dictate what cannot be covered. A nation not hiding something wouldn’t restrict inspections.

Europeans and Iran United In Opposition to Trump

Now that Trump has chosen to hold Iran to the terms of the deal, former Obama administration official, European politicians, the mainstream media and Iran have been unified in vilifying Trump.

Trump, for example, observed that “in Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and condoned Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children.”

How did The Washington Post’s editorial refer to Trump’s remarks?

IN AN act of political vanity and geopolitical folly, President Trump has made one of the most serious national security challenges facing the United States, that of Iran, considerably worse.


By subordinating his Middle East foreign policy to the nuclear deal with Iran (see our post on Tony Badran and Michael Doran here) it was Barack Obama who allowed Iranian-backed violence in the Middle East to increase. It would be nice of the Post to acknowledge that the nuclear that they supported (however reluctantly) fueled Iranian aggression, including the slaughter in Syria that they have repeatedly condemned. Instead they sacrificed their credibility to protect the legacy of Barack Obama, a man they endorsed twice for president, and attacked his successor for declaring he would challenge Iran’s aggression on all fronts.

Toward the end the Post editorial charged, “Rather than tackling those urgent challenges, Mr. Trump prefers to renounce the legacy of his political nemesis Barack Obama and thereby reopen the one front where Tehran is currently contained.”

The Post never addressed Amano’s admission about Section T, but that would undermine their assertion that Iran’s nuclear programs was contained. In any case, Iran’s ongoing and increasing aggression, was fed, not contained by Obama. Trump, again, said he had seen enough of Iran’s aggression. Contrary to the Post’s assertion, it is not Trump’s job to map out all the details of his policy, but to give a general outline. That is something Trump did very effectively. It will be up to his cabinet to map out the program that the president feels will accomplish his goals.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Are The Key

Some of the better analyses of Trump’s decertification speech include those by Ray Takeyh, Bret Stephens (who still expresses his skepticism that Trump will handle this effectively) and the editors of The Wall Street Journal who wrote:

The most promising part of Mr. Trump’s strategy is its vow to deter Iranian imperialism in the Middle East. The President laid out a long history of Iran’s depredations—such as backing for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and rebels in Yemen, cyber attacks on the U.S., hostility to Israel, and support for terrorism. Notably, Mr. Trump singled out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s military vanguard, for new U.S. financial sanctions.

This is a welcome change from President Obama, who was so preoccupied with getting his nuclear deal that he ignored Iran’s efforts to expand the Shiite Islamic revolution. Mr. Trump is putting the nuclear issue in the proper strategic context as merely one part of the larger Iranian attempt to dominate the region. This will go down well with Israel and the Sunni Arab states that were horrified by Mr. Obama’s tilt toward Tehran.

In short, Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal is a first, but necessary step, to counter the increased Iranian aggression that has spread death and destruction across the Middle East over the past eight years.