Donald Trump made no secret of his opposition to the international nuclear agreement with Iran – before and after his 2016 election – but he generally seemed reluctant to close the door altogether. In fact, the American president at times seemed to be engaged in some kind of clumsy negotiations, calling for “fixes” to the Iran deal that would make it “tougher.”What we didn’t know until very recently is that many of our partners and allies were grudgingly prepared to go along with Trump’s demands. The Associated Press reported last week that the United States’ closest European allies “agreed in principle to the toughest of Trump’s demands.” The American leader, the article added, “walked away from the deal anyway.”
The New York Times published a related report over the weekend.
Five days before President Trump pulled out of what he called the “horrible” Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told diplomats from Britain, France and Germany that he believed the pact could still be saved.
If Mr. Pompeo could win a few more days for negotiations, he told the Europeans in a conference call on May 4, there was a chance – however small – that the two sides could bridge a gap over the agreement’s “sunset provisions,” under which restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire in anywhere from seven to 13 years.
Our allies were prepared to accept Trump’s proposed changes, but in the end, the American president wasn’t willing to take “yes” for an answer.
A Washington Post report added overnight that European officials invested “months” of effort into negotiations with Trump administration officials, and as late April, an agreement was taking shape. A five-page document outlining supplemental additions to the Iran deal was embraced by our allies.
But in the run-up to Trump’s decision, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson each made separate visits to the White House to discuss the effective international agreement, and each came away with “the feeling Trump had not read the five-page document they had prepared and perhaps was even unaware of the effort.”
Of course, given what we know about the American president’s reading habits, the idea that he’d sit down and review the details of a five-page document is ludicrous on its face.
These developments nevertheless offer important insights into Trump’s presidency. For example, they serve as a reminder that negotiating with the Republican – a self-professed expert at making deal – is nearly impossible given his willingness to reject generous offers. The European efforts to rescue the Iran deal remind me of the president’s negotiations with congressional Democrats over immigration: his opponents effectively offered him what he said he wanted, and it didn’t make any difference,
Similarly, trying to work with Trump through appeals based on reason and evidence is a fool’s errand. This president appears to draw firm conclusions based on a combination of faulty assumptions and incomplete reports from conservative media, and once he’s convinced himself, nothing else matters.
This is obviously a ridiculous approach to governing a global superpower, but these are nevertheless the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Postscript: The aforementioned New York Times report included a relevant detail to consider. Defense Secretary James Mattis, who’s said for months that the Iran deal was working, opposed the Trump’s decision, but his voice was ignored. The article added, “Even if Mr. Mattis had wanted to fight for the deal, it is not clear how much he would have been heard. [White House National Security Advisor John Bolton], officials said, never convened a high-level meeting of the National Security Council to air the debate.”