President Trump after signing a document reinstating sanctions against Iran on May 8, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump took the most radical option available in pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, which he variously described as “horrible,” “one-sided,” “disastrous,” “decaying” and “rotten.” He also announced the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran and those who continue to do business with Iran.

Why it matters: Trump’s decision could force a showdown over Iran’s nuclear program now rather than in a decade. If Iran were to resume nuclear activities proscribed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), there is a real risk the U.S. or Israel would launch attacks against it, starting a regional conflict of unknown dimensions.

Trump did not emphasize Iranian non-compliance with the JCPOA. Instead, he cited Iran’s ability to exploit the limitations and perceived flaws of the 2015 agreement, which neither addresses Iran’s push for regional influence (including support for terrorism) nor precludes Iran from implementing many prerequisites of a nuclear weapons program when limits on centrifuges and enriched uranium “sunset” in just over 7 and 12 years respectively. 

What’s next: Iran will want to start talks with the Europeans, China and Russia about preserving the JCPOA and avoiding broad sanctions. But Trump’s withdrawal could bring about a conflict with European governments if he follows through on threats to sanction those who maintain business ties with Iran after 3 or 6 months.

The decision could lead North Korea to question the utility of signing an agreement with the U.S. and reinforce doubts around the world about the willingness of this president to stand by American commitments.

Last, Trump has added to Iran’s economic difficulties but at the cost of empowering the most militant elements in Iran and making it more difficult for the Iranian people to challenge their government, lest they seem to be siding with the “Great Satan.”

The bottom line: There was no urgency to change U.S. policy now. A wiser path would have been to live with the JCPOA, continue negotiations with Europeans and others on a successor pact to extend Iranian nuclear constraints, push for new sanctions tied to Iran’s ballistic missile program and do more to frustrate Iran’s efforts around the Middle East, including keeping U.S. military forces in Syria.

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “A World in Disarray.”

Go deeper

Trump pushes to expand ban against anti-racism training to federal contractors

Trump speaking at Moon Township, Penns., on Sept. 22. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump announced late Tuesday that the White House attempt to halt federal agencies' anti-racism training would be expanded to block federal contractors from "promoting radical ideologies that divide Americans by race or sex."

Why it matters: The executive order appears to give the government the ability to cancel contracts if anti-racist or diversity trainings focused on sexual identity or gender are organized. The memo applies to executive departments and agencies, the U.S. military, federal contractors and federal grant recipients.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 31,517,087 — Total deaths: 968,726 Total recoveries: 21,622,862Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 a.m. ET: 6,895,685 — Total deaths: 200,768 — Total recoveries: 2,646,959 — Total tests: 96,612,436Map.
  3. Health: The U.S. reaches 200,000 coronavirus deaths — The CDC's crumbling reputation — America turns against coronavirus vaccine.
  4. Politics: Elected officials are failing us on much-needed stimulus.
  5. Business: Two-thirds of business leaders think pandemic will lead to permanent changes — Fed chair warns economy will feel the weight of expired stimulus.
  6. Sports: NFL fines maskless coaches.

Louisville declares state of emergency as Breonna Taylor decision looms

A demonstrator holds up a sign of Breonna Taylor during a protest in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency Tuesday "due to the potential for civil unrest" ahead of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's expected announcement on the Breonna Taylor case.

Of note: Louisville has witnessed more than 115 days of protests over the police killing of Taylor, an unarmed Black woman, with calls for all the officers involved to be charged.

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!