President Donald Trump sent a clear message to European allies and senior administration officials Tuesday when he fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: the President remains steadfast on implementing his strategy to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means dismantling the 2015 Iran nuclear deal established by President Obama, sources told this reporter.
Trump, who ‘begrudgingly’ recertified the Iran deal January, will not re-certify in May if Germany, France or Great Britain back down from the conditions the administration set in place at the beginning of the year to hold Tehran accountable for its nuclear program, a White House official told this reporter.
U.S. allies, however, have argued that Iran is abiding by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the JCPOA, which they contend is working to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check. Germany, which has a strong economic incentive to keep the deal, has been the most critical of Trump’s strategy and has stated they were consulting with Britain and France on how to proceed with Iran if Trump withdraws. In late January, Tillerson traveled to Warsaw and announced that he had secured support from Britain, France, and Germany on the Iran deal. He said all the parties agreed to work on the deal, despite Trump’s possible decision to walk away from it, according to Reuters.
As early as Tuesday, Tillerson remained adamant that the Iran deal not be dismantled and was planning to discuss the issue with Trump, according to a U.S. official. He never had the opportunity to do so and Trump announced that CIA Director Mike Pompeo was going to replace him. Tillerson’s failure to support the president’s agenda on crucial issues like Iran led to the president’s decision to fire him, said several U.S. Officials, with knowledge of the firing.
“This is absolutely the last time – either we fix it or [I] won’t sign another waiver…”
“If the Europeans make it clear that what we (the United States) are asking for is going too far, then we’ll know, but as soon as they say that, Europe is signing the deal’s death warrant,” said a White House official, familiar with the internal battles that have taken place over the Iran deal. “Tillerson wasn’t faithful to the intent of the president. Tillerson didn’t agree with breaking the Iran deal.”
“Every time the president’s been persuaded to sign these waivers he’s done so begrudgingly,” the official added. “And in January he said, ‘this is absolutely the last time – either we fix it or he won’t sign another waiver. I’m not going to sign it unless Iran agrees.”
James Carafano, vice president for national security and foreign policy at The Heritage Foundation, said: “I believe the president did send a very clear message to our European allies when he fired Tillerson.”
Carafano, who helped staff the State Department as a member of Trump’s transition team, told this reporter, while Tillerson’s abrupt firing was unexpected, there is no question the president intends to stick with his strategy on Iran.
“I think that is the deal that is on the table and Trump is saying if he can’t leverage the deal with the Europeans to put Iran in a box then he’s walking away and we’re going to do it the hard way,” Carafano said. He added that Trump has already seen success with his strategy because the Europeans have been in discussions with the United States to find a framework for a new agreement. Carafano also noted that Trump’s strong stance on Iran sends a clear message to the North Korean regime, “Trump’s showing North Korea the kind of deal he’s willing to accept and he can’t go soft on them.”
After firing Tillerson on Twitter Tuesday, Trump told reporters as he was preparing to leave the White House, “when you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. 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.”
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
In January, Trump outlined four critical elements that Iran needs to comply with if the deal is to remain in place:
- Iran must allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors. No exceptions.
- The international community must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.
- No Sunset Clause. Meaning, unlike the Iran deal, there is no expiration date. “My policy is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon—not just for ten years, but forever,” stated Trump.
- If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume.
- Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state in United States law—for the first time—that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.
At the January meeting, Pompeo clearly understood the president’s strategy and advised him that this would be the last time he would have to sign the waiver to re-certify if the Europeans don’t comply with the demands of the administration, a source at the meeting told this reporter.
Another person closely involved with the new Iran strategy was Brian Hook, a senior policy advisor to the Secretary of State and director of the secretary’s policy planning staff. Hook, who worked closely with Tillerson, was in agreement with the president on the issue of Iran, the White House official stated.
“I believe that Brian Hook was faithful to the intent of the president,” the White House official stated. “Tillerson didn’t agree and believed even if you can’t get it fixed we should still stay with the deal because in his mind it was the best option.”