The status of the Iran nuclear deal is uncertain after Donald Trump was elected president Tuesday night in a massive upset.
Unlike some of the challengers he faced in the GOP primary, Trump said he would not rip up the deal on his first day in office. Instead, he promised to enforce the deal so strictly that it will fall apart on its own.
“You know, I’ve taken over some bad contracts. I buy contracts where people screwed up and they have bad contracts,” Trump said in August. “But I’m really good at looking at a contract and finding things within a contract that, even if they’re bad, I would police that contract so tough that they don’t have a chance. As bad as the contract is, I will be so tough on that contract.”
The difficulty in doing so is that some parts of the deal have already been carried out and will be difficult to undo, like the $100 billion in sanctions relief that has been granted.
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“It’s like a toddler, where you let them eat dessert first and then you come ask them to eat their spinach. Iran’s already got its dessert,” said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
The nuclear deal with Iran, which Obama negotiated last year, aims to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but critics say it doesn’t go far enough since it still allows for uranium enrichment and only lasts for about a decade. But supporters say that while it may not be a perfect deal, it does at least delay Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Michael O’Hanlon, an analyst with the Brookings institution, said it’s still unclear how Trump will address the deal once in office.
“He has a huge choice to make on that. It’s one of the bellweather issues does he really want to be a huge disrupter on American foreign policy or will he pick his battles (so to speak) very selectively, focusing instead on the economic agenda? I don’t think we can know yet,” he said.
Walid Phares, a foreign policy advisor to Trump’s campaign, said over the summer that Trump will “renegotiate” the deal, but not get rid of it.
Rubin said Trump may try to force Iran to walk away from the deal rather than terminating it himself by enforcing it more strictly and demanding things like inspections of Iranian revolutionary guard bases, which Iran has said it will not do.
“You have the deal and then you have the interpretation of the deal. [Secretary of State] John Kerry has been very solicitous of Iran’s opinions. Donald Trump might be a lot less empathetic to Iran’s interpretations, might have some very public food fights as to who is violating what,” he said.
Jim Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said that he would also expect Trump to try a similar tactic.
“Rather than simply walk away from it, it would be preferable to link its demise to Iranian cheating on nuclear issues, so that U.N. sanctions will be re-imposed, in addition to U.S. unilateral sanctions,” he said.
Because the deal does sunset, Trump may also have a say in what comes next if he is elected again in 2020 and serves two terms, Rubin said.
The White House warned against pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran, saying it could trigger a war. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, in June called it unwise for the next president to create a huge problem for himself shortly after taking office by launching a new crisis in the Middle East.