Donald Trump ran for president as a master dealmaker, but it appears his White House doesn’t have even a basic idea of how deals work.
In response to Iran’s announcement that it has breached the limits on uranium enrichment imposed by the nuclear deal President Barack Obama negotiated, the White House sent out a bizarre and easily mocked statement:
"The Iranian regime took action today to increase its uranium enrichment. It was a mistake under the Iran nuclear deal to allow Iran to enrich uranium at any level. There is little doubt that even before the deal’s existence, Iran was violating its terms. We must restore the longstanding nonproliferation standard of no enrichment for Iran. The United States and its allies will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. Maximum pressure on the Iranian regime will continue until its leaders alter their course of action. The regime must end its nuclear ambitions and its malign behavior."
Of course, Iran wasn’t in compliance with the eventual deal’s terms before the deal was in place (which Trump later abandoned). That’s why a deal was made. But at the risk of delving into obscure metaphysics, it just makes no sense to say that Iran was violating a deal that didn’t exist.
On the one hand, this is just another in a line of silly typos and embarrassing turns of phrase coming from Trump’s own mouth or his spokespeople in the White House. But whether or not Iran becomes a nuclear power remains a crucial issue of global security, so the White House’s missteps are even more important than usual. And this particular gaffe is revealing — it shows how contorted and incoherent the administration’s position on Iran is, leading its defenders to make nonsensical claims.
Not mentioned in the statement is that Iran is only exceeding the deal’s uranium limits after Trump himself violated the deal by unilaterally pulling out and reimposing sanctions. Since the law wasn’t an congressionally ratified treaty, Trump didn’t break the law, but he did pull out of a deal that could have contained the regime’s nuclear ambitions. He violated its terms once the deal was in existence — which Iran has never credibly been accused of doing — and these actions have left the world worse off.
This is particularly true given Trump’s treatment of North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un, who has nuclear weapons. The goal of the Iran deal was to prevent Tehran from following Kim’s path. But now Trump has shown that countries will have much more leverage and success in working with the United States if they already have nuclear weapons. With this precedent established and the nuclear deal in tatters, what incentive is there for Tehran not to pursue the bomb?