WASHINGTON – Hosting his French and German counterparts at the White House last week for critical talks on the fate of the Iran nuclear deal, Donald Trump tried to be respectful, and coy: As the American president so often says, he prefers to be unpredictable on the international stage.
But the actions of his national security team in recent days point in one direction: He is preparing to withdraw from the 2015 deal, based on an argument that it was brokered in bad faith by the Iranians in the first place, and now rests on illegitimate foundations.
That strategic communications strategy launched on Monday with revelations of an extraordinary Israeli raid of a warehouse in Tehran earlier this year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended a dramatic presentation of intelligence, which he said documents Iranian lies to international inspectors and world powers through implementation of the deal, by expressing confidence that Trump would “do the right thing” and scrap the accord.
Netanyahu had an idea of what Trump would think of the presentation: He gave it to the US leader in advance. And his defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, discussed the material and the future of the deal with his American counterpart, James Mattis, and Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, just days before. As did Netanyahu and visiting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mere hours ahead of the prime minister’s speech.
On Tuesday, Pompeo told reporters he would “leave it to the lawyers” to determine whether Israel’s findings reveal explicit Iranian violations of the nuclear accord. No such claim has been made thus far. But the top diplomat, new to his post, said that the atomic files build a case for Iran’s true motives – that it intended to secretly store blueprints for nuclear bombs after promising never to build them, and denying such blueprints existed.
He said the US continues to translate the documents, and have only “scratched the surface.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, emphasized the importance of Netanyahu’s speech to the administration’s messaging in a press briefing on Tuesday.
“The problem is the deal was made on a completely false pretense. Iran lied on the front end,” Sanders said. “They were dishonest actors and so the deal that was made was made on things that were not accurate. Particularly the fact that Iran’s nuclear capabilities were far more advanced and further along than they indicated.”
A senior Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post that the president knows he has boxed himself in politically with his rhetoric on the deal, and with his May 12 deadline set on European powers to come up with ambitious “fixes” to the agreement. The Israelis believe he has taken this path because he is genuinely prepared to withdraw.
And an Israeli official told The New York Times this week that Jerusalem released the Iranian archives in part to “support” the US president’s decision to do so, which the Israelis believe has already been made.
Trump spoke on Monday after Netanyahu’s presentation as if a US pullout was already in the planning stages.
“It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t negotiate a new agreement,” he said.