Though few were surprised when President Trump on Tuesday announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Iran deal, many have struggled to unpack the logic behind his decision. Bipartisan experts and allies overseas urged Trump to continue to honor the deal, in which Iran agreed to stop producing nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of sanctions that had been hurting the country's economy. Tearing up the agreement has little-to-no discernible value to the United States, and by reimposing sanctions, the president has allowed Iran to resume its nuclear weapons program.
During his speech announcing the decision, Trump offered few specifics as to how the United States would benefit from scrapping the deal. "Great things can happen for Iran," Trump said. "And great things can happen for the peace and stability that we all want in the Middle East. There has been enough suffering, death, and destruction. Let it end now."
Following the announcement, two state department officials were tasked with trying to make sense of the move, which could prove to be the most consequential action Trump has taken thus far as president. Normally this would fall on someone like the Secretary of State – the newly confirmed Mike Pompeo – whom Trump dispatched to North Korea while all this was going down.
Needless to say, the press conference did not go well.
As the transcript makes clear, the Trump administration has thrown its relationships with its allies and the future of the Middle East into disarray with no sense of what will come next, and no foundation in place on which to build lasting solutions to the problems created by abandoning the deal. All the State Department can offer is that they "think we’re going to be in a better place."
This is an evergreen, timeless exchange between journalists and US officials at State and Pentagon briefings.— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) May 9, 2018
(This one from today's State Dept briefing on Iran)https://t.co/aWgiYjyuDE pic.twitter.com/5wKjHw2bqT
The briefing was filled with several tense exchanges, many of which centered around the promise to develop a world coalition to address Iran. "As we exit the Iran deal, we will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat," Trump said Tuesday. "This will include efforts to eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program, to stop its terrorist activities worldwide, and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East.
This may prove difficult, as France, Germany and the United Kingdom – all of which signed onto the Iran deal – opposed Trump's decision. Though the president said Tuesday that in recent months the United States has "engaged extensively" with its allies, the State Department's press briefing made it clear that this administration has no real indication of the extent to which it will cooperate in developing a new strategy now that the deal has been scuttled. Iran has already said that it is not open to negotiating a new agreement.
Here's the tweet in question, which the officials referred to multiple times throughout the briefing:
We will work collectively on a broader framework, covering nuclear activity, the post-2025 period, ballistic activity, and stability in the Middle-East, notably Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 8, 2018
There is cause for concern here – namely that the best proof the administration has they will be able to form a global coalition is ... a tweet.
French President Emmanuel Macron reminded followers where he and the rest of America's allies stand on Trump's decision.
France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 8, 2018
When asked why the president decided to withdraw from the deal before gathering a better understanding of how Europe would respond, the officials said that Trump made a promise in January that if they weren't able to come to terms on a supplemental agreement, he was not going to renew the waiver on sanctions. "He followed through on that promise," one of the officials said.
The officials noted that the deal-breaker for the president was the "sunset clause" that allowed some restrictions on Iran's use of nuclear fuel to relax after 10 years. After failing to agree on a measure to supplement the Iran deal, no alternative plan was developed before Trump decided to nix the deal altogether.
Another excerpt that is telling: State officials admitting they have no clue what Europeans will do because they focused so much on the supplemental agreement that fell through that they never discussed a “plan B” pic.twitter.com/CNrfntC7oL— Robbie Gramer (@RobbieGramer) May 9, 2018
Trump didn't fare much better than the State Department while attempting to explain his decision to reporters after making the announcement. When he was asked how the deal makes America safer, the president answered predictably.
"Thank you, thank you," he said as he brandished a freshly signed memorandum reinstating sanctions against Iran. "This will make America much safer."