Another Trump surprise, and it’s bad news for Iran

Another Trump surprise, and it’s bad news for Iran

Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has surprised the world — and the American people — on many occasions. His executive orders restricting travel to the US, changing key aides and officials in his administration, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, none of this was expected by politicians and ordinary people. 
Only last year, Trump was threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea if its nuclear program endangered the US, terrifying the world with the prospect of a nuclear war. Now he has agreed to direct negotiations with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. And no sooner had the political establishment recovered from that shock than Trump fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. 
The president has nominated Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA, as Tillerson’s replacement. For both hard-line Republicans in the US Congress and the so-called “moderate” government of Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, the nomination was quickly interpreted as a death sentence for the 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
The agreement, reached after almost 10 years of negotiations that began with the Bush administration and concluded in the Obama era, has been irritating President Trump for quite some time, going back to his presidential campaign. 
Pompeo frequently expressed his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal when he was a member of the US Congress, and again as head of the CIA; he represents an ultra-republican view that does not support the deal, or even talking to Iran’s clerical dictators.
Pompeo has compared Iran to Daesh, and as head of the CIA he released classified documents associating Iran with the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. In a speech last October he described Iran as a “thuggish police state,” and has promised to constrain Iran’s investment environment and “roll back” the nuclear deal.
With all this history, the arrival of Pompeo at the State Department is bad news for Iran, especially since differences over the nuclear deal were among the reasons Trump fired Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “I guess he thought it was OK. So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”

The president has nominated Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA, as Tillerson’s replacement. For both hard-line Republicans in the US Congress and the so-called “moderate” government of Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, the nomination was quickly interpreted as a death sentence for the 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

Camelia Entekhabifard

Does this indicate that Trump intends to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal, or that he wants to make more progress with the changes in the agreement that he has demanded? It’s hard to answer that question, but certainly if the president wanted to exit the deal, he really did not need to get rid of Tillerson — unless he wants to see more speed and progress in the changes he wants. 
Already the nomination of Pompeo and his clearly stated views on the Iran nuclear accord have had an impact in Iran, and among the EU members who support the deal. In recent days, all sides of the Iranian press, from reformers to hard-liners, have been predicting that the nuclear deal will be over as early as mid-May, and that Pompeo will be the force to execute President Trump’s wishes. 
On March 20, Iranians will begin a 13-day public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian new year. By the time they come back to work in early April, Pompeo will have had his confirmation hearings in the US Senate. The first newspapers published in Iran after the new year holidays are unlikely to contain good news for the regime in Tehran. 
But just as the Iranian leadership has been thrown into a state of panic by Trump’s choice for secretary of state, the leading states in the EU, who also support the nuclear deal, may also be surprised and lost. 
They have been engaged recently with more diplomatic efforts to talk to Tehran in an effort to satisfy Trump’s demands for changes to the nuclear deal, and to extract some commitments with which they can buy more time for negotiations to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional issues, in order to save the deal in May, even temporarily.
It is hard to say how the Europeans would react if the US dismisses the accord, but certainly there will be negotiations before the deadline of May 12 set by Trump for his final decision. 
But do not discount the possibility of another “Trump surprise”; just as he did with North Korea, the president may turn all the speculation on its head, and Pompeo may approach Iran directly to turn a new page of diplomacy. 
 
  • Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008).Twitter: @CameliaFard
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