How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear
By John Bolton
August 28, 2017
candidate Donald Trump repeatedly criticized Barack Obama's Iran nuclear
agreement, his administration has twice decided to remain in the deal. It so
certified to Congress, most recently in July, as required by law. Before the
second certification, Trump asked repeatedly for alternatives to acquiescing yet
again in a policy he clearly abhorred. But no such options were forthcoming,
despite "a sharp series of exchanges" between the president and his
advisers, as the New York Times and similar press reports characterized it.
the administration wondered how this was possible: Was Trump in control, or were
his advisers? Defining a compelling rationale to exit Obama's failed nuclear
deal and elaborating a game plan to do so are quite easy. In fact, Steve Bannon
asked me in late July to draw up just such a game plan for the president — the
option he didn't have — which I did.
Here it is. It
is only five pages long, but like instant coffee, it can be readily expanded to
a comprehensive, hundred-page playbook if the administration were to decide to
leave the Iran agreement. There is no need to wait for the next certification
deadline in October. Trump can and should free America from this execrable deal
at the earliest opportunity.
I offer the
paper now as a public service, since staff changes at the White House have made
presenting it to President Trump impossible. Although he was once kind enough to
tell me "come in and see me any time," those days are now over.
president is never to see this option, so be it. But let it never be said that
the option didn't exist.
Administration is required to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is
complying with the July 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of
Action — JCPOA), and that this agreement is in the national-security interest
of the United States. While a comprehensive Iranian policy review is
currently underway, America's Iran policy should not be frozen. The JCPOA is a
threat to U.S. national-security interests, growing more serious by the day. If
the President decides to abrogate the JCPOA, a comprehensive plan must be
developed and executed to build domestic and international support for the new
Under the Iran
Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, the President must certify every 90 days
(i) Iran is
transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement, including all
related technical or additional agreements;
(ii) Iran has
not committed a material breach with respect to the agreement or, if Iran has
committed a material breach, Iran has cured the material breach;
(iii) Iran has
not taken any action, including covert activities, that could significantly
advance its nuclear weapons program; and
Suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the agreement is –
appropriate and proportionate to the specific and verifiable measures taken by
Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program; and
(II) vital to
the national-security interests of the United States.
leadership here is critical, especially through a diplomatic and public
education effort to explain a decision not to certify and to abrogate the JCPOA.
Like any global campaign, it must be persuasive, thorough, and accurate.
Opponents, particularly those who participated in drafting and implementing the
JCPOA, will argue strongly against such a decision, contending that it is
reckless, ill-advised, and will have negative economic and security
we must explain the grave threat to the U.S. and our allies, particularly
Israel. The JCPOA's vague and ambiguous wording; its manifest imbalance in
Iran's direction; Iran's significant violations; and its continued, indeed,
increasingly, unacceptable conduct at the strategic level internationally
demonstrate convincingly that the JCPOA is not in the national-security
interests of the United States. We can bolster the case for abrogation by
providing new, declassified information on Iran's unacceptable behavior around
But as with
prior Presidential decisions, such as withdrawing from the 1972 ABM Treaty, a
new "reality" will be created. We will need to assure the
international community that the U.S. decision will in fact enhance
international peace and security, unlike the JCPOA, the provisions of which
shield Iran's ongoing efforts to develop deliverable nuclear weapons. The
Administration should announce that it is abrogating the JCPOA due to
significant Iranian violations, Iran's unacceptable international conduct more
broadly, and because the JCPOA threatens American national-security interests.
Administration's explanation in a "white paper" should stress the many
dangerous concessions made to reach this deal, such as allowing Iran to continue
to enrich uranium; allowing Iran to operate a heavy-water reactor; and allowing
Iran to operate and develop advanced centrifuges while the JCPOA is in effect.
Utterly inadequate verification and enforcement mechanisms and Iran's refusal to
allow inspections of military sites also provide important reasons for the
previous Administration knew the JCPOA was so disadvantageous to the United
States that it feared to submit the agreement for Senate ratification. Moreover,
key American allies in the Middle East directly affected by this agreement,
especially Israel and the Gulf states, did not have their legitimate interests
adequately taken into account. The explanation must also demonstrate the linkage
between Iran and North Korea.
We must also
highlight Iran's unacceptable behavior, such as its role as the world's central
banker for international terrorism, including its directions and control over
Hezbollah and its actions in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The reasons Ronald Reagan
named Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984 remain fully applicable
There are four
basic elements to the development and implementation of the campaign plan to
decertify and abrogate the Iran nuclear deal:
quiet consultations with key players such as the U.K., France, Germany,
Israel, and Saudi Arabia, to tell them we are going to abrogate the deal based
on outright violations and other unacceptable Iranian behavior, and seek their
the documented strategic case for withdrawal through a detailed white
paper (including declassified intelligence as appropriate) explaining why the
deal is harmful to U.S. national interests, how Iran has violated it, and why
Iran's behavior more broadly has only worsened since the deal was agreed.
greatly expanded diplomatic campaign should immediately follow the
announcement, especially in Europe and the Middle East, and we should ensure
continued emphasis on the Iran threat as a top diplomatic and strategic
and execute Congressional and public diplomacy efforts to build domestic
and foreign support.
quiet consultations with key players
It is critical
that a worldwide effort be initiated to inform our allies, partners, and others
about Iran's unacceptable behavior. While this effort could well leak to the
press, it is nonetheless critical that we inform and consult with our allies and
partners at the earliest possible moment, and, where appropriate, build into our
effort their concerns and suggestions.
effort will articulate the nature and details of the violations and the type of
relationship the U.S. foresees in the future, thereby laying the foundation for
imposing new sanctions barring the transfer of nuclear and missile technology or
dual use technology to Iran. With Israel and selected others, we will discuss
military options. With others in the Gulf region, we can also discuss means to
address their concerns from Iran's menacing behavior.
consultations could begin with private calls by the President, followed by more
extensive discussions in capitals by senior Administration envoys. Promptly
elaborating a comprehensive tactical diplomatic plan should be a high priority.
the documented strategic case
House, coordinating all other relevant Federal agencies, must forcefully
articulate the strong case regarding U.S. national-security interests. The
effort should produce a "white paper" that will be the starting point
for the diplomatic and domestic discussion of the Administration decision to
abrogate the JCPOA, and why Iran must be denied access to nuclear technology
indefinitely. The white paper should be an unclassified, written statement of
the Administration's case, prepared faultlessly, with scrupulous attention to
accuracy and candor. It should not be limited to the inadequacies of the JCPOA
as written, or Iran's violations, but cover the entire range of Iran's
continuing unacceptable international behavior.
white paper will not be issued until the announcement of the decision to
abrogate the JCPOA, initiating work on drafting the document is the highest
priority, and its completion will dictate the timing of the abrogation
review and declassification strategy, including both U.S. and foreign
intelligence in our possession should be initiated to ensure that the public has
as much information as possible about Iranian behavior that is currently
classified, consistent with protecting intelligence sources and methods. We
should be prepared to "name names" and expose the underbelly of the
Iranian Revolutionary Guard business activities and how they are central to the
efforts that undermine American and allied national interests. In particular, we
should consider declassifying information related to activities such as the
Iran-North Korea partnership, and how they undermine fundamental interests of
our allies and partners.
expanded diplomatic campaign post-announcement
Administration, through the NSC process, should develop a tactical plan that
uses all available diplomatic tools to build support for our decision, including
what actions we recommend other countries to take. But America must provide the
leadership. It will take substantial time and effort and will require a
"full court press" by U.S. embassies worldwide and officials in
Washington to drive the process forward. We should ensure that U.S. officials
fully understand the decision, and its finality, to help ensure the most
positive impact with their interlocutors.
worldwide should demarche their host governments with talking points (tailored
as may be necessary) and data to explain and justify abrogating JCPOA. We will
need parallel efforts at the United Nations and other appropriate multilateral
organizations. Our embassies should not limit themselves to delivering the
demarche, however, but should undertake extensive public diplomacy as well.
explaining and justifying the decision to abrogate the deal, the next objective
should be to recreate a new counter-proliferation coalition to replace the one
squandered by the previous Administration, including our European allies,
Israel, and the Gulf states. In that regard, we should solicit suggestions for
imposing new sanctions on Iran and other measures in response to its nuclear and
ballistic-missile programs, sponsorship of terrorism, and generally belligerent
behavior, including its meddling in Iraq and Syria.
China obviously warrant careful attention in the post-announcement campaign.
They could be informed just prior to the public announcement as a courtesy, but
should not be part of the pre-announcement diplomatic effort described above. We
should welcome their full engagement to eliminate these threats, but we will
move ahead with or without them.
Iran is not
likely to seek further negotiations once the JCPOA is abrogated, but the
Administration may wish to consider rhetorically leaving that possibility open
in order to demonstrate Iran's actual underlying intention to develop
deliverable nuclear weapons, an intention that has never flagged.
for the diplomatic campaign, the NSC interagency process should review U.S.
foreign-assistance programs as they might assist our efforts. The DNI should
prepare a comprehensive, worldwide list of companies and activities that aid
Iran's terrorist activities.
and execute Congressional and public diplomacy efforts
Administration should have a Capitol Hill plan to inform members of Congress
already concerned about Iran, and develop momentum for imposing broad sanctions
against Iran, far more comprehensive than the pinprick sanctions favored under
prior Administrations. Strong congressional support will be critical. We should
be prepared to link Iranian behavior around the world, including its
relationship with North Korea, and its terrorist activities. And we should
demonstrate the linkage between Iranian behavior and missile proliferation as
part of the overall effort that justifies a national-security determination that
U.S. interests would not be furthered with the JCPOA.
U.S. sanctions should be imposed outside the framework of Security Council
Resolution 2231 so that Iran's defenders cannot water them down; multilateral
sanctions from others who support us can follow quickly.
Administration should also encourage discussions in Congress and in public
debate for further steps that might be taken to go beyond the abrogation
decision. These further steps, advanced for discussion purposes and to stimulate
debate, should collectively demonstrate our resolve to limit Iran's malicious
activities and global adventurism. Some would relate directly to Iran; others
would protect our allies and partners more broadly from the nuclear
proliferation and terrorist threats, such as providing F-35s to Israel or THAAD
resources to Japan. Other actions could include:
should be the Administration's highest diplomatic priority, commanding all
necessary time, attention, and resources. We can no longer wait to eliminate the
threat posed by Iran. The Administration's justification of its decision will
demonstrate to the world that we understand the threat to our civilization; we
must act and encourage others to meet their responsibilities as well.