From Consortium News
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at joint press conference on Feb. 15. 2017.
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President Donald Trump's new Iran policy clearly represents a dangerous rejection of diplomacy in favor of confrontation. But it's more than that: It's a major shift toward a much closer alignment of U.S. policy with that of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Whether explicitly or not, Trump's vow to work with Congress to renegotiate the Iran nuclear agreement, and his explicit threat to withdraw from the deal if no renegotiation takes place, appear to be satisfying the hardline demands Netanyahu has made of Washington's policy toward Tehran.
Specifically, Netanyahu has continued to demand that Trump either withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or make far-reaching changes that he knows are impossible to achieve. In Netanyahu's Sept. 19 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu declared, "Israel's policy toward the nuclear deal with Iran is very simple: Change it or cancel it." And he made no secret of what that meant: If Trump doesn't "cancel" the deal, he must get rid of its "sunset clause" and demand that Iran end its advanced centrifuges and long-range missile program, among other fundamentally unattainable objectives.
Trump's statement on Oct. 13 managed to include both of the either/or choices that Netanyahu had given him. He warned that, if Congress and America's European allies do not agree on a plan to revise the deal, "then the agreement will be terminated." He added that the agreement "is under continuous review," and our participation "can be canceled by me, as president at any time."
One provision the administration wants Congress to put into amended legislation would allow sanctions to be imposed if Iran crosses certain "trigger points," which would include not only nuclear issues but the Israeli demand that Iran stop its long-range missile program. Ballistic missiles were never included in the JCPOA negotiations for an obvious reason: Iran has the same right to develop ballistic missiles as any other independent state, and it firmly rejected pro forma demands by the Barack Obama administration to include the issue in negotiations.
Trump went a long way towards Netanyahu's "cancel" option by refusing last week to certify that Iran was keeping up its end of the JPCOA. That move signaled his intention to scrap the central compromise on which the entire agreement rests.
Although the Middle East is very different today than during the George W. Bush administration, some parallels can be found in comparing Trump's policy toward the JCPOA and Bush's policy toward Iran during the early phase of its uranium enrichment program.
The Likud Wing
The key figures who had primary influence on both Trump's and Bush's Iran policies held views close to those of Israel's right-wing Likud Party. The main conduit for the Likudist line in the Trump White House is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, a primary foreign policy adviser, and a longtime friend and supporter of Netanyahu. Kushner's parents are also long-time supporters of Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.
Another figure to whom the Trump White House has turned is John Bolton, undersecretary of state and a key policymaker on Iran in the Bush administration. Although Bolton was not appointed Trump's Secretary of State, as he'd hoped, he suddenly reemerged as a player on Iran policy thanks to his relationship with Kushner. Politico reports that Bolton met with Kushner a few days before the final policy statement was released and urged a complete withdrawal from the deal in favor of his own plan for containing Iran.
Bolton spoke with Trump by phone the day before the speech about the paragraph in the deal that vowed it would be "terminated" if there weren't any renegotiation, according to Politico. He was calling Trump from Las Vegas, where he'd been meeting with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the third major figure behind Trump's shift towards Israeli issues.
Adelson is a Likud supporter who has long been a close friend of Netanyahu's and has used his Israeli tabloid newspaper Israel Hayom to support Netanyahu's campaigns. He was Trump's main campaign contributor in 2016, donating $100 million. Adelson's real interest has been in supporting Israel's interests in Washington -- especially with regard to Iran.
In a public appearance in Israel in 2013, when Adelson was asked about his view on negotiating with Tehran, he suggested dropping a nuclear weapon on a desert in Iran and then saying to the Iranians, "See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development...."