President Trump’s gambit to decertify the JCPOA depended, its supporters acknowledged, on the president’s ability to line up our European allies. If they collectively pressed for changes in the JCPOA and/or stepped up pressure against Iran for its non-nuclear conduct, success might be possible. Those of us who opposed the strategy doubted that the administration was remotely capable of doing so.
On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) exposed the flaw in the decertification ploy. Reuters reported:
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday to work closely with European allies as it develops its new Iran policy.“This is something that can only work if the administration exercises tremendous diplomacy with our European allies,” Corker told reporters as the Senate returned to the Capitol for the first time since Trump announced his Iran policy.
His remarks came on a day the European Union issued a statement affirming their support for the JCPOA and distancing itself from Trump’s move. Corker offered that he had tried to cushion the blow. “I . . . shared with them that, look, if I were them, I’d look at this as ‘the glass is half full,’ he didn’t withdraw from the JCPOA (the nuclear deal), and that’s step one,” Corker said.” Translation: Not my idea, but this is not a total fiasco — yet.
It seems incumbent on the president to — well, that’s ridiculous right there — or more likely his national security adviser to explain what the administration did to prepare their allies, what response they got from their allies, what efforts they are undertaking to get our allies on board and how this can possibly work if our allies are not on board. Democrats in Congress and many Republicans are not about to cause a breach with our European allies because Trump reportedly threw a “fit” over the prospect of certifying the deal.
Instead of a collaboration among the White House, Congress and our allies, we now see the EU imploring Congress to block the president. The Guardian reports on the EU’s concern Trump’s actions will exacerbate the existing standoff with North Korea:
EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the president’s threat risks making it “more difficult to open any form of dialogue or mediation with [Pyongyang] in the case of a serious threat”. . . .“Clearly the ministers are concerned that messages on JCPOA might affect negatively opening negotiations or even the space [for] opening negotiations with DPRK,” Mogerhini said, using the abbreviation for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “One of the key elements of multilateralism is the predictability of maintaining agreements.”
The press accounts suggest that the U.S. informed its allies, but did not collaborate and reach accord with them prior to Trump’s announcement:
Mogherini, who said she spoke to the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, moments before Trump’s speech last Friday, called on the US to examine how the deal affected its own security. “I am convinced that the United States will take into consideration the security interests not only of their own country, but also of their allies, partners and friends,” she said.The UK, France and Germany have restated their commitment to the deal. Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, said: “We are obviously working as Europeans to keep the Iran nuclear going. The UK has long thought this is good for our collective security, it is good for the world, it is good for Europe and it is good to keep that going.”France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said the EU needed to put real pressure on Congress. “We hope that Congress will not call this agreement into question because … non-proliferation [of nuclear weapons] is a major element of global security,” he said.Bert Koenders, the foreign minister of the Netherlands, said it would be a grave mistake to abandon the agreement, suggesting there could be a destabilizing effect on North Korea. “The consequences would not only be the consequences for the United States, but also for Europe and the international community,” he said. “Look at the situation in North Korea.”
Corker is right that 100 senators cannot negotiate with the EU. The job of preparing, cajoling and winning over the EU is the administration’s job. (It’s mind blowing one or more senior officials aren’t already in Europe to tamp down the EU’s panic.) So far Corker cannot be encouraged. What did the administration think the EU would do if Trump spurned their concerns and embarked on decertification, followed by threats to reimpose sanctions, thereby taking the U.S. out of the JCPOA?
Apparently no one thought this through — or could get the president to think this through rationally. Getting out of the corner Trump has painted himself into should be interesting — and terrifying to watch. And Congress cannot do it for him.