Iran, Trump Should Be Like Reagan
Richard Goldberg and Dennis Ross
just three days, President Donald Trump must once again decide what to do about
the much-debated Iran nuclear deal. Most are framing his choice as a binary one:
Kill it or keep it? Although the emergence of a popular uprising against the
Iranian regime undoubtedly complicates the politics of Trump's decision, the
president should reject such false choices and find a path that can sustain
broad consensus at home and abroad. There is always a middle path to discover in
foreign policy—and, in this case, a path that can uphold American values,
defend our national security and keep our commitments to close allies.
basic idea is not ours alone; it can be credited to President Ronald Reagan, who
successfully negotiated a major arms control agreement with the Soviet
Union—all while publicly calling it an "evil empire," building up
America's strategic deterrence, promoting regime change and applying economic
pressure tied to the Soviet record on human rights.
and Democrats may differ over the strengths and weaknesses of the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran nuclear deal is formally known. But
the White House, Congress and our allies share legitimate concerns—most
significantly, the difficulty of fully verifying Iran's compliance with the
agreement. Iran's ballistic missile program, which was not part of the JCPOA,
continues to make alarming progress. And so-called sunset provisions in the deal
could allow Iran to build a more robust uranium enrichment capability in a few
short years, once certain restrictions expire.
where we should not differ is in our commitment to core American values—human
rights and democracy. It is inside this commitment where we can find a way
Iran today, people have been taking to the streets to denounce a regime that
diverts the resources of its population toward terrorism, regional
destabilization and proliferation while denying its citizens the basic values of
freedom and democracy the West takes for granted. The Iranian people, it
appears, have finally had enough of a financial system that launders their small
but hard-earned wages to export terror, Shia militias and missiles to foreign
lands. They've had enough of a regime that cares more about investing in the
religious trusts—known in Farsi as bonyads—and the very same Revolutionary
Guard now deployed against them.
Iranian protesters are making a statement and we should not ignore it. The
president would be well within his rights under the JCPOA and international law
to follow Reagan's example and answer them with action. Just as the Iranian
regime feels free to spread its power and reach within the region
notwithstanding the JCPOA, so should the United States and Europe feel free to
impose sanctions tied to human rights, terror and missiles notwithstanding the
sanctions relief provided under the JCPOA should not be interpreted as a blanket
immunity for Iranian officials, banks and other government instrumentalities to
expand their illicit activities. If such a person or entity is found to be
connected to the Revolutionary Guard, terrorism, missile proliferation and human
rights abuses, it most certainly can and should be subject to sanctions—even
if sanctions for that person or entity were initially suspended by the JCPOA.
JCPOA must not prevent us from fulfilling our international obligations on human
rights, terrorism and proliferation. It cannot handcuff the United States and
its allies from using all available means of state power to stop these illicit
activities. Indeed, the American people were repeatedly assured by
then-Secretary of State John Kerry that nothing in the JCPOA precluded the
United States from imposing sanctions for such non-nuclear activities.
international agreements throughout history were hatched by adopting vague
language that could be interpreted in different ways by different parties. That
is especially true for arms-control agreements, and the JCPOA is no exception.
The administration would be wise to try to convince the Europeans that
non-nuclear sanctions are an acceptable and highly effective way of raising both
the internal and external costs to the Iranian regime for its aggressive
course, the Iranian dictators won't like it. They might even claim such
sanctions violate the nuclear deal and threaten to abandon their commitments.
But they would be wrong—and they alone would bear the blame and consequences
of exiting the JCPOA.
week's presidential decision needs to rise above partisanship in a manner that
galvanizes the support of the free world. Silence is not an option, nor is
keeping money flowing to regime officials, banks and government entities that
suppress the basic rights of the Iranian people. Those managing the Iranian
economy and those financial institutions in Iran that seek to do business with
the international community should know they will pay a price for engaging in