President Trump’s declaration Tuesday that he would exit the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was more than just a fulfillment of a campaign promise; it was a much-needed shift in US foreign policy. The message to the world: The era of appeasement is over.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was among the worst deals negotiated in modern times. In exchange for the suspension of America’s toughest economic sanctions, Iran needed only freeze its nuclear program for a limited amount of time — keeping its nuclear capabilities on standby while perfecting its missile arsenal, increasing support to terrorism and expanding its military footprint throughout the Middle East.
The strategy just might work, but it’ll take a lot more than just re-imposing sanctions to succeed. Sanctions are only effective if they are enforced. The sooner the Trump administration identifies a sanctions-evading bank and cuts it off from the international financial system, the sooner a global chilling effect will amplify the impact of American sanctions. The same goes for underwriters and gold-traders.
Beyond enforcement, the Trump administration will need key allies to fully implement this pressure campaign. The Saudis, under attack by Iranian missiles from Yemen, should be a willing partner in the effort to drive down Iran’s oil exports — ensuring Saudi production increases to replace Iranian contracts and stabilize the market. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain should also combine their market leverage to force European and Asian investors to choose between doing business in their countries or doing business in Iran.
Trump will also need Europeans to act on one key issue which, given their opposition to his withdrawal from the deal, may present a diplomatic challenge. Under US law, the president may impose sanctions on secure financial messaging services — like the Brussels-based SWIFT service — if they provide access to the Central Bank of Iran or other blacklisted Iranian banks.
In 2012, when Congress first proposed the idea, the European Union ordered SWIFT to disconnect Iranian banks, which closed a major loophole in US sanctions. Now that Trump has left the deal, SWIFT must once again disconnect Iran’s central bank. If SWIFT refuses, Trump should consider imposing sanctions on the group’s board of directors.
Trump’s Iran pivot from appeasement to pressure offers America the best chance to fundamentally change Iranian behavior and improve our national security. If his administration implements the strategy effectively, the Iranian regime will have a choice: meet America’s demands or face economic collapse.
Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @rich_goldberg.
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.