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Foreign Policy

Trump Announces Withdrawal From Iran Deal To Strong Condemnation From Obama, Kerry



President Donald Trump announces the United States' withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, speaking in the Diplomatic Room of the White House (White House official photo)

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2018 — Citing Iran’s President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — better known as the Iran nuclear deal — over protests from his predecessor and a key member of the previous administration.

“The fact is this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump said during remarks delivered from the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.

The agreement, which was adopted in October of 2015 and went into effect three months later, requires Tehran to adhere to strict limits and prohibitions on practices and technologies that would enable development of a nuclear weapon, including a regime of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In exchange, the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union — including signatory nations Germany and the United Kingdom — agreed to lift the economic sanctions that had been leveled against Tehran in recent years as a result of that country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

But despite certifications by officials from both the International Atomic Energy Agency and his own government, Trump complained that the limits of the agreement placed on Iran’s use of other nuclear technologies were “very weak,” and that it did not cover what he called Iran’s “other malign behavior,” specifically its involvement in Syria, Yemen, and its support for Hezbollah. The President also condemned the deal for allowing an influx of cash into Iran’s economy, once again referring to the Obama administration’s transfer of approximately $1.7 billion in cash to Iran, which he called “a great embarrassment to me as a citizen and to all citizens of the United States.”

Infamous ‘pallets of cash’ were of Iran’s money, not America’s

Trump has mentioned the $1.7 billion on a number of occasions before and since taking office, and has repeatedly linked the cash transfer to the nuclear deal, citing the fact that the transfer was made in cash form as evidence of some sort of shady deal.

But Trump’s suggestion that the two have ever been connected is completely false. Those funds represent money owed to Iran by the United States for undelivered military equipment. The U.S. incurred the debt after it suspended delivery of such equipment to the newly-declared Islamic Republic of Iran, even though previous Pahlavi government had paid approximately $600 for the equipment before Iran’s 1979 revolution.

While the Carter administration had originally agreed to repay the money, those plans were shelved when Iranian assets were frozen as a result of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. The unpaid funds remained a source of tension between Washington and Tehran, which filed a claim with the Iran-US Claims Tribunal charged with adjudicating such cases.

The funds were finally returned — with interest — by the Obama administration in order to avoid that tribunal returning an even larger judgment against the United States, and the reason for the cash transfer was that it took place before the deal when Iran did not have access to the international banking system.

A senior State Department official affirmed that one reason for pulling out of the deal was to hurt Iran’s economy, which the official said was largely infiltrated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration recently declared a terrorist organization.

“We do think that, given the IRGC’s penetration of the Iranian economy and Iran’s behavior in the region, as well as its other nefarious activities, that companies should not do business in Iran,” said the official.

Following his remarks, Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum withdrawing the U.S. from the agreement with immediate effect.

Bolton says sanctions to return immediately, denies interest in regime change 

As a result, National Security Adviser John Bolton explained that the same sanctions that existed at the time the agreement was signed will go back into effect immediately.

For companies that have been doing business in Iran, Bolton said the Treasury Department would be announcing the specifics of a “wind-down period” during which they would be permitted to wrap up any business they might have. The length of that period would vary depending on the circumstances of the contract, Bolton said.

Bolton added that while the withdrawal from the deal means the U.S. will not be making use of the provisions in U.N. Resolution 2231, the “wind-down period” would follow the pattern suggested by the resolution.

“But the fact of the sanctions coming back in is effective right now,” he said. “We’re out of the deal.”

On the subject of what today’s announcement would mean to North Korea, Bolton said the message Pyongyang should glean from it is that Trump “wants a real deal.” But the notoriously hawkish former ambassador — who once penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran,” denied that the Trump administration’s end goal is regime change.

“What the President said was, following his discussion with his counterparts in many European countries…is that one of the fundamental criticisms that the President and others have made to the deal is that it sought to address only a limited aspect of Iran’s unacceptable behavior — certainly a critical aspect — but not taking into account the fact this is, and has been for many years, the central banker of international terrorism. ”

Lifting the sanctions, Bolton said, enabled Iran to increase funding for its military activities across the region. “To really deal with this threat and to try to bring peace and stability to the Middle East, and to relieve the world of the nuclear threat, you have to go after the whole thing,” he explained.

As for specifics, Bolton said that when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in North Korea for talks in preparation for Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un , he will explain that a “real deal” includes “what North Korea itself agreed to going back to the 1992 joint North-South denuclearization declaration: the elimination of both the front and the backend of the nuclear fuel cycle; no uranium enrichment; no plutonium reprocessing.”

America not keeping its word on Iran doesn’t mean it can’t be trusted on North Korea, Bolton says

When asked if Trump’s decision — which some observers have noted might not inspire confidence that he can be trusted to keep his word when he meets with Kim — could be taken as evidence that any deal made by the U.S. might be thrown out when political winds shift, Bolton said that shouldn’t be inferred from Trump’s decision at all.

“The issue here is whether the United States will accept the deal that’s not in its strategic interest,” he said, noting that the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty under then-President George W. Bush in 2001 “because the global strategic environment had changed.”

Obama and Kerry weigh in with strong rebukes

But in a rare statement on current events, former President Barack Obama strongly rebuked Bolton and Trump’s reasoning, calling the announcement “misguided” while noting that the JCPOA is in American’s interest because it has “significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program.”

The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense,” Obama wrote, noting that the agreement is “a model for what diplomacy can accomplish,” and that leaving the agreement just when there is hope for diplomacy to succeed with North Korea “risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.”

Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated. In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.”

Obama added that without the deal in place, the U.S. “could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”

The other figure most closely connected with the deal — former Secretary of State John Kerry —  also reacted to Trump’s announcement with a strong statement of condemnation, in which he, too warned that pulling out of the deal means risking a new war in the middle east.

“Today’s announcement weakens our security, breaks America’s word, isolates us from our European allies, puts Israel at greater risk, empowers Iran’s hardliners, and reduces our global leverage to address Tehran’s misbehavior while damaging the ability of future Administrations to make international agreements,” said Kerry. “The facts speak for themselves — Instead of building on unprecedented nonproliferation verification measures, this decision risks throwing them away and dragging the world back to the brink we faced a few years ago.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the op-ed written by National Security Adviser John Bolton as having appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Bolton’s op-ed appeared in The New York Times. We regret the error.


Andrew Feinberg covers the White House, Capitol Hill, and anything else you can think of for and Andrew has reported on policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007, and his writing has appeared in publications like The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Silicon Angle, and Washington Business Journal. He has also appeared on both daytime and prime radio and television news programs on NPR, Sirius-XM, CNN, MSNBC, ABC (Australia), Al Jazeera, NBC Digital, Voice of America, TV Rain (Russia) and CBS News. Andrew wishes he could say he lives in Washington, DC with his dog, but unfortunately, he lives in a no-dogs building in suburban Maryland.

Foreign Policy

Haley Resigns As U.N. Ambassador, Shoots Down 2020 Speculation



WASHINGTON, October 9, 2018 — Ambassador Nikki Haley will “take a break” from public service by resigning from her position as the United States’ top U.N. envoy at the end of the year, President Trump said Tuesday morning.

Haley will be leaving “at the end of the year,” Trump said while sitting alongside her in the Oval Office, citing the former South Carolina governor’s desire to “take a break.”

“You have been very special to me, done an incredible job,” he said while addressing Haley, adding that she has done an “incredible job” and “gets it.”

The sudden announcement came less than an hour after Axios broke the surprise news of her resignation.

Within minutes of the story’s appearance online, Haley was spotted by reporters as she walked into the Oval Office with several aides. But when she appeared alongside Trump shortly after she took pains to thank Trump for allowing her to serve, and called her time representing the U.S. at the United Nations “the honor of a lifetime.”

Trump’s conduct of foreign policy, Haley continued, has caused the United States to be respected again.

“Countries may not like what we do, but they respect what we do,” she said.

While some pundits speculated that the timing was connected to the #MeToo-related drama over now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, when he and Haley appeared before cameras, Trump claimed that Haley first approached him six months ago about setting a timetable to depart before the end of the Trump administration’s second year.

Haley is one of two members of the foreign policy team to have served for the entirety of Trump’s time in office. She joined the administration at a time when very few members of the Republican foreign policy establishment wanted to serve the new president, which served him just fine, as most of them had signed open letters criticizing him.

As so-called moderates like former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were forced out after clashing with Trump over his disdain for international multilateral agreements like the Iran nuclear deal, Haley remained a fixture and an oasis of stability in an administration that has seen turnover at levels unheard of at this point in a president’s first term.

Even as other establishment-minded administration officials incurred Trump’s wrath for pushing back on his most extreme impulses and saw their own reputations sullied, Haley managed to thrive in her role at the U.N.

Her New York-based post gave her a place in the spotlight and a chance to burnish her foreign policy credentials. It also gave her enough geographic distance from Washington to avoid the contempt Trump developed for the members of his national security team who he saw more regularly.

But that geographic distance also allowed her to put political distance between her and the president at moments when she would break from him in one way or another, including the aftermath of last year’s white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.

That distance was most evident on the occasions when she would contradict her boss by sharply criticizing the Russian government, even as he continually dismissed the idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 election as a “Democrat hoax” and attacked the Justice Department investigation into the interference as a “witch hunt.”

Haley’s frequent departures from the Gospel of Trump on those matters has made her the subject of endless rumors, most of which place her on the 2020 Republican primary ballot opposing her soon-to-be former boss. But Haley attempted to put a wet blanket on any such speculation by telling reporters that she’d be campaigning for Trump, not against him.

“No, I’m not running in 2020,” she said.

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Foreign Policy

Kudlow Holds Administration’s Line On Turkey Steel Tariff — Says Increase Not Connected To Evangelical Pastor’s Plight Despite Evidence To Contrary



WASHINGTON, August 16, 2018 — White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said on Thursday that President Trump’s decision to subject steel imports from Turkey to a fifty percent tariff was not in any way connected to the president’s ire over the Turkish government’s treatment of Andrew Brunson, an American evangelical pastor, despite the increase occurring shortly after the Trump administration imposed sanctions in retaliation for his continued detainment on terrorism charges.

“They [the tariffs] are not connected to that story — I think, basically, that the president was dissatisfied with Turkey on trade,” Kudlow said, noting that the tariffs are “subject to constant negotiations.”

Kudlow added that he personally thinks Turkey should release Brunson, but stressed that “policy-wise,” the decision to expand not connected. He declined to say whether the sanctions would be tightened if Brunson is not released, but said Trump “will keep everybody up to speed.”

Brunson, 50, had lived in Turkey for 23 years when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government arrested him in the wake of a 2016 coup attempt on accusations of being a follower of Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish pastor who lives in the United States as an expatriot.

Erdogan says Gulen and his movement, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization, were the masterminds behind the attempted putsch. It is believed that Erdogan’s government continues to hold Brunson as a bargaining chip to force the United States to extradite Gulen, but the Trump administration has not as yet been receptive to the idea.

The White House announced the tariff increase in an August 10 presidential proclamation, shortly after the Trump administration announced it would impose economic sanctions on Turkey in response to the decision by Erdogan’s government to keep  Brunson, on house arrest rather than release him outright,  Both announcements came after both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence began tweeting about Brunson’s plight, and after Pence wrote in a tweet that his release on house arrest was “not good enough.”

Despite the clear appearance of of a connection, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said the sanctions would be lifted if Brunson is released, but the tariffs would remain.

The tariffs that are in place on steel would not be removed with the release of Pastor Brunson.  The tariffs are specific to national security.  The sanctions, however, that have been placed on Turkey are specific to Pastor Brunson and others that we feel are being held unfairly,” said Sanders.

However, Sanders could not name a specific national security concern that prompted the tariff move.

“The President has been clear about the steel and aluminum industries — steel particularly in this case — that those are industries that must be protected.  And we must have the ability to reach certain levels of manufacturing of those products here in the United States for the purposes of national security,” she said.

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Foreign Policy

US Ambassador To UK Says Trump ‘Aware’ Of Giant Baby Blimp, Will Discuss Second Novichok Incident With May



Volunteers check over the 'Trump Baby' balloon in advance of his planned maiden flight during President Trump's inaugural visit to London

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2018 — The United States’ Ambassador to the United Kingdom says President Donald Trump is aware of the numerous protests set to greet him when he arrives in London next week, including the large balloon depicting him as a phone-toting baby set to fly over Parliament for the duration of his visit.

“I think we’re all aware [of the protests],” Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson said Friday during a conference call with reporters.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan initially denied permission for the “Trump Baby” balloon — the brainchild of a U.K.-based crowdfunding campaign — to fly over Parliament but reversed course after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition.

The balloon is six meters in height and depicts the president as a diaper-clad infant holding a smartphone.

President Trump, Johnson said, appreciates the value of free speech as “one of the things that bind us together” in both the U.S. and U.K., but will be “very focused” on making sure the relationship between the two countries is improved and that American prosperity and security are enhanced by this trip.

The president’s reliance on helicopters to get to and from various locations around London and the UK is not out of any desire to avoid his seeing protesters, Johnson explained.

While Johnson acknowledged that getting Trump to and from some of the various sites he will visit “requires being in the air,” he said that the president will “use various modes of transportation.”

Johnson says Trump and May ‘are on the same page’ concerning Russian malfeasance despite Trump’s history of downplaying it

Johnson also said he thinks that Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May “are on the same page” when it comes to Russia’s malign activities, including Russia’s use of the chemical agent Novichok to poison an ex-spy and his daughter earlier this year. Residual poison left over from that attack is thought to have been what caused a British couple to be similarly stricken this past week.

Trump “was very receptive to what happened” to Sergei and Yulia Skripal — the Russian father and daughter who were poisoned — and “expelled 60 spies or people or whatever you want to call them very rapidly,” he said, adding that he knew that Trump and May would be discussing the matter when they meet at Chequers, the British Prime Minister’s country retreat.

However, Johnson did not address the numerous media reports which indicated that Trump was displeased with having to expel more Russian diplomats than other countries in retaliation for the poisoning or the statements made by Trump in which he downplayed Russia’s involvement or cast doubt on whether Vladimir Putin’s government was involved in the incident at all.

Trump has consistently refused to criticize Russia or its president and consistently downplays the extent of its malign activities

Trump has a history of downplaying or minimizing Russian malign activities dating back to his 2016 campaign for the presidency, during which he responded to a TV interview question about Putin’s history of murdering journalists by suggesting the U.S. “has a lot of killers” as well.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election despite reports affirming such a conclusion having been issued by the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russia’s international malfeasance also extends to its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. During an impromptu press conference last month, Trump suggested that the invasion — which was ordered by Putin — was actually the fault of then-President Barack Obama.

His reluctance to criticize Russia or Putin has continued through this month. During a July 5 campaign-style rally in Montana, Trump mocked critics who suggested that he should be wary of meeting with Putin, a former KGB officer, without any advisors or note takers.

“Putin’s fine,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”

“Getting along with Russia, and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing,” he added, “not a bad thing.”

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