On Iran, Trump does the right thing and rebukes the State Department ‘swamp’

Fred Fleitz,

Earlier this week, I wrote in Fox News Opinion how State Department careerists – part of the so-called Washington, D.C. “Swamp” that President Trump ran against in his campaign — scored a big win by declaring that Iran is in compliance with the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. 

As I explained in my article, this certification is false – Iran clearly has violated the terms of the nuclear deal. State Department careerists ignored these violations to protect the JCPOA – a legacy achievement of President Obama – and to force President Trump to backtrack on his fierce criticism of the deal as one of the worst ever negotiated.   

We now know President Trump is having none of this. 

Several sources told me the president “hit the ceiling” after the State Department sent its certification to Congress on April 18 saying that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. 

The next day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hastily called a press conference in which he strongly condemned Iran as a state sponsor of terror which is destabilizing the Middle East. 

Tillerson also said the JCPOA is a very weak agreement which “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and “only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.” 

According to Tillerson, the nuclear deal bought off Iran for a short period of time and left the Iranian nuclear problem for a future president to deal with. Tillerson added that the Trump administration would not follow this course and that U.S. Iran policy “is being reviewed across the entire government.”

The president personally rebuked the certification letter Thursday during a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni when he said Iran is “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear deal.

Trump added: “I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed and it was a terrible agreement.  We are analyzing it very carefully and we’ll have something to say about it in the not too distant future.”

Trump’s statement greatly irritated the news media and the foreign policy establishment which thought the fix was in for a flip-flop by the President on the JCPOA. Former State Department officer Nicolas Burns – a Hillary Clinton supporter and strong Trump critic – immediately tweeted:

I was very pleased to see President Trump’s quick action to smack down efforts by the “swamp” to sabotage his position on the dangerous JCPOA agreement.  While I would have preferred him saying that Iran is in violation of the terms of the agreement, his statement that Iran has violated the spirit of the accord is a good starting point.

The next thing the president should do is to order the National Security Council to take control of the 90-day interagency review of the Iran nuclear deal.  

I don’t really see the point of this lengthy review since the JCPOA’s problems are so obvious. Moreover, since so many key national security jobs are vacant, an interagency review could be easily hijacked by swamp careerists who negotiated the nuclear deal in the first place. 

A better solution would be for the NSC to review the JCPOA itself and issue a recommendation by the end of the month. 

Another alternative would be to ask outside think tanks — who were not beholden to the Obama administration — to review the agreement and provide an independent evaluation. 

I recommend this be done by the Center for Security Policy, the Heritage Foundation, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the Hudson Institute and the Institute for Science and International Security. 

All of these groups have experts who have done extensive research and writing on the JCPOA and would produce a far more realistic assessment of it than an interagency government review. 

Because of the president’s leadership, the victory that the “swamp” appeared to score this week on his Iran policy was short-lived. 

To keep his Iran policy on track, President Trump and his advisers need to be prepared for future efforts by the “swamp” to undermine his major foreign policy objectives. The best way to do this is to staff key foreign policy posts throughout the government ASAP.

Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank. Follow him on T[email protected].