WASHINGTON – Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, was briefed last week by State Department officials on strategic planning for the future of the Iran nuclear deal ahead of his Senate confirmation hearings slated to begin next week.
US diplomats, according to the Associated Press, which reported on the briefing, have begun actively preparing contingency plans should Trump choose to withdraw from the international agreement next month. Pompeo has advocated for the US to “roll back” the deal ever since it was reached during the Obama administration in 2015.
State Department officials do not have a handle on Trump’s strategy, and are unsure what might convince him to stay within the agreement – one that he railed against throughout his campaign for the presidency and continues to criticize to this day. Few within his government are advocating for a hasty withdrawal from the accord, however, fearing such a move would isolate the US from its allies and provide Iran with justification to expand its nuclear work.
Trump instructed his administration in January to launch crash negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, hoping they together could come up with “fixes” to controversial provisions in the agreement.
The president specifically wants to expand access for UN inspectors to Iran’s military sites suspected of hosting past nuclear activity; to link Iran’s ballistic missile development to its nuclear program; and to extend limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment work, set to expire within a decade.
Absent a US-E3 agreement that accomplishes all three goals, Trump has threatened to allow US waivers on nuclear- related sanctions to expire by May 12 – a move that would in practice withdraw Washington from the nuclear deal.
State Department officials are debating to what extent Trump would need to “snap back” sanctions on Iran in order for him to uphold his campaign promise and follow through on his threat, without fully withdrawing from the agreement.
Any reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions would certainly be a violation of the deal, however, and constitute “significant nonperformance” under its terms – terms that then allow Iran to reciprocate by resuming some of its nuclear work.
Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the State Department and the US delegate to the last meeting on the nuclear deal with Iran, Russia, China, and the Europeans in Vienna, was one of the officials who briefed Pompeo on the developments.
Trump “has asked if we can reach an agreement with the Europeans,” Hook told reporters last month. “We always have to prepare for any eventuality, and so we are engaged in contingency planning because it would not be responsible not to engage in it.”
“We’re kind of dual-tracking this,” he added.