President Trump indicated in a Wall Street Journal interview he’s willing to overrule the State Department and not certify Iran’s compliance. This is Part 1 of an interview that aired July 26, 2017, when John Yang from PBS NewsHour spoke to Robert Malley, a former White House negotiator for the Iran nuclear talks, and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
John Yang: Candidate Donald Trump ran against the agreement, but President Trump has twice followed the State Department’s advice and certified that Iran is complying with it. But now, in a Wall Street Journal interview published today, Mr. Trump indicated he’s willing to overrule the State Department when the next certification is due in October.
[Video Clip] President Trump: We’re giving them the benefit of every doubt but we’re doing very detailed studies and … personally I have great respect for my people. If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.
[Video Clip] Wall Street Journal: Do you expect them to be declared noncompliant the next time?
[Video Clip] President Trump: Personally, I do.
John Yang: What would it mean if Mr. Trump said Iran is not complying. What’s at stake here? We get two views. First, Rob Malley is here in the studio, a special assistant to President Barack Obama. He was the lead senior White House negotiator for the agreement. He’s now a vice president of the International Crisis Group. And joining us from Toronto is Mark Dubowitz. He’s chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C. based think tank. He’s been advising the Trump administration on Iran policy. Rob, let me start with you. What’s your response to what the president said. I should also point out that in that interview he went on to say that he thinks Iran is taking advantage of this country. He said, “They’ve taken advantage of a president named Barack Obama who didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
Rob Malley: Okay, I won’t respond to that, but let’s get the facts straight. We have now, since President Trump has been in office, twice the administration certified that Iran was in compliance with the deal. Twice the administration waived the sanctions, which is a way of indicating that it’s mutually reciprocal. This is the administration’s response to the fact that Iran is doing its share. We do our share. Twice the agency, the international agency that’s responsible for deciding whether the sides are in compliance, whether Iran is in compliance with it’s nuclear restriction. The International Atomic Energy Agency, twice, since President Trump has been in office, it has said that Iran is living up to its deal, and twice the Joint Commission, which is the commission formed by all of the members, countries that negotiated the deal. Including the United States, twice, including recently, they have said that Iran is in compliance.
So maybe the president has information that he hasn’t shared with anyone else, but at this point it’s clear, that for almost every objective observer, every objective observer, the subjective observers may have another view, but every objective observer has said that Iran is in compliance. So, I don’t know where he comes up with saying that he knows, that others don’t know. Even his cabinet disagrees apparently, but he knows that Iran is not in compliance, so that would really be breaking our own obligations under the deal, but also breaking with our allies, which would put us in a very difficult position.
John Yang: Mark Dubowitz, you are advising the administration. Obviously, I presume, you wouldn’t want to talk about that advice, make that advice public, but what should the president do? What do you think the president should do when this next certification comes up?
Mark Dubowitz: So, the president should make it very clear that Iran is not in compliance with the deal. It’s been very clear in the Secretary Tillerson’s letter to congress, again, made it very clear that there are incremental violations of the deal. The president actually didn’t certify that Iran is in full compliance of the deal. He merely said that Iran meets certain conditions that were laid by congress, which didn’t require full compliance. So, my advice to the president would be, state the facts, which is Iran is incrementally violating the deal. But, unless there’s a material breach of the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, don’t go to the Joint Commission, don’t snap back the UN sanctions, but use that noncompliance as a predicate to roll out a much more comprehensive Iran policy that deals with all forms of Iranian malign behavior, not only nuclear misbehavior, but Iran’s malign behavior across multiple fronts. That’s a full comprehensive policy, and it gets us away from this myopic focus on the nuclear deal, which I think paralyzed U.S., Iran policy under President Obama.
John Yang: Rob Malley, myopic focus on the nuclear deal and should there be a broader consideration as he says?
Rob Malley: There should. There has been and will continue to be. I mean, what the Iran administration or President Obama did, was take one issue, which was a critical issue, not only our national security experts, but Israeli and other experts said, if Iran was to rush to a bomb, we would be in a very difficult situation. Let’s look at the case of North Korea. We wouldn’t want to see a North Korea in the Persian Gulf. That was a priority at that point, was not to give up on the other issues, let’s at least make sure that Iran is not in a position to get a bomb. At the same time, let’s push back on the original activities and see what we can do about their ballistic missiles, but the deal itself, and deliberately was about this issue.
It wasn’t a case of myopia, it was a case of, “We’re going to deal with this issue. We solved it. At least for the time being. And let’s work on the other issues at the same time.” There’s nothing in the nuclear deal that would prevent us from taking action against Iran if it engaged in terrorism, ballistic missiles, human rights violations. The question at the heart of what the president said is whether we are going to continue to honor our part of the deal to make sure that Iran also honors its part, and doesn’t rush to nuclear bombs, so that we don’t have what we have now in North Korea. In North Korea we have a country that has a nuclear bomb and we have no visibility on what they’re doing. In Iran, we have a country that doesn’t have a nuclear bomb and we have almost maximum visibility as a result of the deal in every aspect of their nuclear program.