President Donald Trump has not killed the Iran nuclear deal. Instead, he has asked Congress to fix its worst flaws.
Our lawmakers can and should work with Trump to redress the gaps in U.S. policy toward Iran — and they can do so without violating the deal.
Some argue the U.S. should not mess with the deal because “it’s working” and Iran is complying with its obligations. But the president’s recent decertification of the accord was not based solely on a claim of Iranian noncompliance.
Rather, Trump argues the sanctions relief Iran received through the deal has not been proportional to the security benefits gained by the United States. This issue requires serious consideration.
The agreement is fundamentally flawed because it lifts meaningful constraints on Iran’s non-nuclear activities in the Middle East without requiring any concessions from Iran outside its nuclear portfolio.
The deal lifts important international restrictions on providing advanced and offensive weaponry to Iran in just three years. It also provides Iran with significant financial relief without any constraints on how the money can be used.
The pact “calls on” but does not actually require Iran to limit its ballistic missile program. It does not mention the activities of Iranian proxies and armed forces throughout the region.
The deal’s concessions to Iran would not pose such a serious threat to U.S. national security if Iran were a responsible regional actor or had begun to moderate its non-nuclear harmful behavior.
Indeed, the Obama administration apparently intended for the nuclear deal to lead the Iranian regime to voluntarily change its approach to regional activities.
Iran, however, has not indicated it will roll back its Middle East adventurism or its support for terrorism. It has only increased its involvement in regional conflicts, especially in Syria and Iraq, with the deployment of its own conventional forces and tens of thousands of proxies, including Lebanese Hezbollah.
The U.S. must confront and roll back Iran’s increasing aggressiveness, and fear of undermining the deal must not stop America from doing what’s right.
Nonetheless, immediately withdrawing from the deal would be unwise. The ideal outcome for the U.S. is one that retains the restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program while also curtailing Iran’s other negative activities.
This is feasible. The deal does not constrain the U.S. or the international community from imposing additional sanctions or other pressure on Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional activities. Iranian claims that new non-nuclear pressures would violate the deal should not deter the U.S. from imposing them.
Congress must work to extend restrictions on Iran’s procurement of advanced weaponry well into the future. It should also develop additional forms of pressure to isolate Iran.
Most important, Congress should conduct these efforts in concert with our European allies and others willing to support the cause. Because Iran’s ballistic missile program is central to its national security doctrine, the country is unlikely to agree to meaningful restrictions on these programs without substantial coercive measures.
Any solution to the shortcomings of the Iran deal most likely will entail an international effort to compel Iran to capitulate on some of its non-nuclear bad behavior.
American national security will be best served by recognizing — and acting upon — the reality that the nuclear deal as written will not resolve the threats posed by Iran.
Marie Donovan is a senior analyst for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute, where her research focuses on the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and broader Iranian military and security issues.
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