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Another View -- Thomas Pickering: Don't kill the Iran Deal

April 09. 2018 9:42PM

President Donald Trump's failure to wave Iran sanctions would put the U.S. in violation of the Iran nuclear agreement with severe consequences. Ditching it will imperil success in talks with North Korea. No national security interest will be served.

Trust is the coin of the realm. The reliability of America’s word and U.S. influence as a world leader will be gravely damaged.

Killing the deal will leave Iran with no limitations on and halt the unprecedented monitoring of its nuclear program. Iran would be free to pursue nuclear weapons. America’s decades-long commitment to non-proliferation will end in tatters. Others in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey may well feel compelled to follow, making the war-torn Middle East vastly more explosive and dangerous.

More immediately, any U.S. effort to pursue the opening of a Kim Jong-un-Trump meeting would be seriously set back. The DPRK will see the U.S. as totally unreliable by breaking a nuclear deal without justification or cause. Japan, China, and South Korea would be shaken by such unilateral U.S. action. It will retard seriously the vital cooperation the U.S. needs for the denuclearization of the peninsula.

Equally dangerous is the loss of communications between the U.S. and Iran. The consequences include the potential of inadvertent or accidental military confrontation and misjudgments in Syria, Yemen and the Gulf that could escalate rapidly in the absence of such contact. The American people are opposed to any new war in the Middle East.

Walking away from an international agreement endorsed by the United Nations Security Council would undermine, long-term, America’s role in the world. Violation of the agreement will isolate the U.S. from its allies and negotiating partners and lose their support in any new effort to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon through resumed negotiations leveraged by additional sanctions and military pressure — a goal and process President Trump has championed.

Threats from Washington are already endangering the agreement. Angering our European allies, who have been seeking to develop better trade and investment opportunities — a principal basis for the agreement in the first place — serves no U.S. national objective. Europeans will for a second time strongly oppose extra-territorial sanctions in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement and will seek to benefit from their own trade and investment with Iran. Killing the nuclear agreement will weaken U.S. security ties to NATO and historic relationships to the world’s oldest and strongest democracies.

Iran will gain by portraying itself as the victim of U.S. power and a model of international cooperation. Russia and China will be pleased to present themselves as the new, reliable guardians of international order. U.S. political and diplomatic influence will be reduced were we to decide, as we should, to help address regional conflicts — leaving military force as the only instrument of intervention.

Iranian hardliners who claim the U.S. cannot be trusted would be vindicated and their role in Iranian domestic and foreign policy strengthened. Russia and China would move closer to Iran in political, economic, and military relations, opening the door to increased transfers of conventional weapons and strategic alliances. A political solution to the wars in Syria and Yemen, and a stable future of Iraq would become even more remote.

Trump himself has made clear there is a simpler and better way by asking our European allies to fix now the Iran agreement. We should begin by vigorously enforcing the nuclear deal and agree with our European partners to control ICBMs, resolve destabilizing regional conflicts, and find ways to extend the time limits on Iranian enrichment of uranium. The administration should pursue urgently an agreement in the region to limit the type, range, and capabilities of long-range ballistic missiles. Such an approach would fulfill a campaign promise, show smart power and help stop proliferation and war.

Thomas Pickering is a former U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Israel, Russia, and the United Nations. He is the featured speaker at the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire’s Global Tipping Points series tonight at 6 p.m. at UNH Manchester.

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