The Cable

Trump’s Top General Says Iran Honoring Nuke Deal

Dunford, the head of the Joint Chiefs, warns that unilaterally pulling out would anger allies and complicate the North Korea crisis.

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The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Tuesday joined other members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet in confirming that Iran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal that has put a temporary halt to its nuclear weapons program.  

“The briefings I have received indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations,” Gen. Joseph Dunford wrote in answers to questions in advance of his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, using an acronym for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

And Dunford warned that U.S. action to pull out of the deal would have unfortunate ripple effects. He said that if the U.S. were to withdrawal without first finding Iran in material breach of the deal, allies would likely question other American treaty obligations. And North Korea, for its part, would have little incentive to enter into talks over its own nuclear program if Washington were to tear up an agreement that, by all accounts, Iran is adhering to.

“It makes sense to me that our holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements,” Dunford said.

Dunford follows Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who said last week that Iran remains in “technical compliance” with the deal, but said the plan has not stopped the threat posed by Tehran.

Dunford took the same line, telling senators that since the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Iran remains in compliance, “therefore I think we should focus on addressing the other challenges; the missile threat they pose, the maritime threat they pose, the support for proxies and terrorists and the cyber threat they pose” across the Middle East.

President Trump is staring down an Oct. 15 deadline to inform Congress whether Iran remains in compliance with the 2015 accord. Twice since taking office, he has recertified the deal. But if he now decides to declare that Iran is breaching the agreement, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions.

The other countries that signed the nuclear deal want it to continue, and European ambassadors on Monday reiterated their support for keeping the deal as it is structured.  In fact, even if Congress unilaterally re-imposes sanctions on the Iranian oil sector, many experts agree that it would be hard to seriously choke off Iranian oil exports.

Rather than antagonizing the countries that worked on the deal, Dunford suggested getting them to help tackle other Iranian challenges; French President Emmanuel Macron has already spoken of the threat posed by Iran’s efforts to assert regional influence.

It would be better for Washington to “focus on leveraging our partners that were part of that agreement to deal with the other challenges that we know Iran poses,” Dunford said.

Photo Credit: Department of Defense

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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