Donald Trump loves the drama and tension of an ultimatum. It appeals to the ringmaster in him. The former reality show star revels in having the whole world hold its breath in anticipation of his next announcement.
None of Trump’s serial deadlines is likely to be more consequential than the one looming on 12 May. That is the day on which he must sign a presidential waiver on sanctions on Iran, or violate a landmark multilateral agreement on the future of Iran’s nuclear programme signed in 2015 with European allies, the UK, France and Germany, Russia, China and Iran itself. Trump has threatened to keep his signing pen in his pocket.
The dramatic tension over what he will decide is fast diminishing. The greatest uncertainty now is over how rapidly it will be followed by a slide towards a new conflict in the Middle East.
Trump has repeatedly stated his hostility towards the nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), made impossible demands for the deal to be changed, and named hawks to two top positions in the past month – Mike Pompeo for secretary of state and John Bolton for national security adviser. Both have devoted much of their careers to vilifying the agreement.
Bolton is a splenetic opponent of most forms of multilateral diplomacy, which he sees as a sign of weakness – and of the JCPOA in particular.
“Trump can and should free America from this execrable deal at the earliest opportunity,” Bolton wrote in August last year when the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, was trying to have him barred from the White House for fear of his bellicose influence on Trump. Now Bolton is on the inside, able to lock more moderate voices out of the Oval Office.
Trump can and should free America from this execrable deal at the earliest opportunity
“I think the Bolton appointment is another nail of the coffin of the Iran Deal,” said Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.
The European signatories of the JCPOA have been meeting a senior state department official in Berlin recently, trying to come up with a formula that would address Trump’s two main stated objections to the deal – the unstated one is that it was signed by the Obama administration.
They are apparently close to an agreement on how to address Trump’s main complaints – the expiry after a number years of some of the limits on Iran nuclear activities, and the absence of restrictions on missiles ...
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