In the White House on Tuesday, with the world just where he wanted it — eyes on the TV, transfixed by his boldness — President Trump uprooted the Iran nuclear deal. Under this agreement, which was signed in July 2015 by Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, the Iranians mothballed significant parts of their rapidly advancing nuclear industry in return for sanctions relief. The country is now considerably further away from a bomb than it was before, and its nuclear facilities are subject to inspections of unusual intrusiveness. In March Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’s chief of the general staff, affirmed that the agreement ‘is working and is putting off realisation of the Iranian nuclear vision by ten to 15 years’.
Trump was swayed not a scintilla by any of this — nor by France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and our own Boris Johnson, who all trooped out to Washington to dissuade him from pulling out. Trump has chosen the hardest exit. He is demanding that foreign companies wind down their trade with Iran within six months and threatens secondary sanctions against any commercial entity which defies him. His administration will also exert itself to stop Iran selling oil on international markets, drying up the country’s main source of income.
Why did the President destroy an arrangement that had prevented Iran from advancing towards a bomb, applied a balm of predictability to one of the most livid issues in the Middle East, and created conditions for more diplomacy?
The first reason for his actions — as with so much he does — is his obsessive loathing for his predecessor. Trump’s barb on Tuesday, ‘the United States no longer makes empty threats’, was aimed as much at Barack Obama as it was at Iran. Then there is his impatience with the deal’s silence on issues such as Iran’s regional meddling, and its development of ballistic missiles, which has allowed it to do both while waiting patiently for the various limitations on its enrichment programme to sunset.