After his campaign promise that he would "rip up" the agreement, it must have galled Donald Trump for his administration to certify to Congress that Iran is meeting its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. That's probably why, in the certification letter Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent to Congress this week, he added that little bit about the administration's review of the deal and the possibility of revisiting the nuclear-related sanctions the United States lifted to secure it.
Of course, it was those very sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place. Having them lifted was Tehran's incentive for dismantling its nuclear program. So, if we snap them back in place without cause, we -- and not Iran -- would be in noncompliance. We -- not Iran -- would be the ones sending a clear message that we are neither a credible nor trustworthy negotiating partner.
And we -- not Iran -- would be on the outside of international convention. Even our allies would not support us. We should remember that unified international effort solved this problem. Going it alone will likely only resurrect it.
The hard-liners in Tehran, who would love to see nothing more than the deal ripped up, would rejoice. We'd be confirming their every chant and slogan about the "Great Satan," and we would make it that much harder for a moderate to win the upcoming presidential election.
If you're trying to get tough on Iran, that's a strange way to do it.
To be fair, the Trump review of the deal hasn't even started. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail and see the logic of a deal that is actually working. But it isn't encouraging that on Thursday, President Trump said Iran is "not living up to the spirit of the agreement," adding, "I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed."
But that's a difficult conclusion to draw when one looks at Tillerson's press statement Wednesday. He was right to catalog the list of transgressions -- and aggression -- that Iran continues to pursue in the region. It's true that Tehran has embarked on a series of misadventures designed to destabilize Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Its state support for terrorism is outrageous, and we must counter it with a variety of military, economic and political measures.
But Tillerson incorrectly appeared to blame much of Iran's misbehavior on the Obama administration and the deal itself.
He was wrong to claim there was an Obama policy of "strategic patience" with Iran. Far from it. President Barack Obama slapped on unilateral sanctions to deal with Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism. He spearheaded additional UN sanctions on that score as well. He maintained, and at times bolstered, US military posture in the Persian Gulf and increased US military assistance to our Gulf allies. And then there is that little matter of the deal itself, which really came to a head only in the early summer weeks of 2015.
Nothing patient about all that.
The secretary of state was also wrong to suggest the deal could or should have included Iran's other misbehavior -- that it was some sort of flaw it didn't. The deal was limited by design. There would have been no way to secure it if we and our negotiating partners (Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany and the European Union) lumped in everything else we don't like about Iran.
Finally, he's incorrect to say that if unchecked, Iran "has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea."
First, Iran is already being "checked." Under the deal, Iran has agreed to extraordinarily rigid and thorough monitoring, verification and inspection. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are continuously monitoring every element of Iran's declared nuclear program 24/7. That's how we know it is still in compliance.
And as the Obama White House noted at the time of the deal, from the minute material that could be used for a weapon comes out of the ground to the minute it is shipped out of the country, the UN nuclear watchdog will have eyes on it wherever Iran could try to move it. And this inspection regime does not sunset; it does not end. Iran cannot cheat without us knowing about it.
Second, North Korea already has nuclear capability. Iran never did. And the deal as written ensures Iran cannot even start spinning higher enriched uranium for at least 15 years, at which time we will know a lot more about its activity and have more time to prepare should it even try.
If you think the Iranians are so bad -- and they are -- it doesn't make much sense to unravel a deal that puts the only meaningful constraints on them racing to a bomb. No problem in the Middle East gets easier with a nuclear-armed Iran.
Facts are, as John Adams famously noted, stubborn things. Any review conducted of the deal should carefully consider them all, not just the convenient ones.