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8 May 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:22pm

Trump thinks he’s a dealmaker. With Iran, that’s not just foolish – it’s dangerous

The president’s confidence that he will be able to successfully wring more concessions out of Iran could lead to catastrophic consequences.

By Sophie McBain

Since assuming the presidency, America’s dealmaker-in-chief Donald Trump has mainly displayed an aptitude for pulling out of agreements.

On Tuesday, he announced America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the landmark 2015 agreement signed between Iran, the US, China, Russia and Europe, which lifted economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs to their nuclear programme.

Trump described the 2015 deal as “rotten” and “defective at its core” and announced that the US would begin “instituting the highest level of economic sanctions”.

Trump’s thinking, for want of a better verb, appears to be that by withdrawing from the agreement he will be able to force Iran back to the negotiating table to hash out a better deal, one that places more demands on Iran.

That sentiment was echoed in the statement released by the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pledging that America would “eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile programme”, “stop its terrorist activities worldwide” and “block its menacing activity across the Middle East and beyond”.

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In response to the news, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said that he had ordered Iran’s atomic energy agency to “be ready to start the enrichment of uranium at industrial levels”, though he he would “wait a few weeks” to first speak to those still committed to the nuclear deal.

But Trump’s confidence that he will be able to successfully wring more concessions out of Iran is foolish.

First, there’s his personal record. He’s had moderate success at breaking things, having successfully withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal – but he’s proved useless at putting them back together.

He has described Obamacare as a “complete and total disaster” and tweeted last July that senators should “let Obamacare implode, then deal” – a similar strategy to his proposed Iran approach – but he failed to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act, largely because he was unable to come up with an alternative.

Similarly, he promised to “work something out” to help young immigrants who were brought to the US as children, but he failed to strike an immigration deal and instead ended their protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme earlier this year. (His DACA decision has been challenged by the courts, which is why I describe Trump as only moderately successful at breaking things.)

But, more importantly, Trump underestimates the complexity and delicacy of the Iran nuclear deal, The 2015 deal was the result of over two years of negotiations. America has now squandered its fragile and hard-won trust and goodwill with Iran, and Rouhani and his moderate allies will face an even harder struggle to convince the country’s powerful hard-liners that a deal will be worth it.

While America’s withdrawal will further destabilise Iran’s internal politics and deepen its economic woes, the impact on the wider region, given Iran’s deep involvement in the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen as well as in Lebanon and Bahrain, is untold.

Negotiating a new settlement with Iran would require a depth of expertise, and a level of political skill and nimbleness that Trump, and his hawkish new state department officials, most certainly lack.

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