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Trump's newest foreign policy challenge: the Iran deal is working

The nuclear agreement with Iran is working. For Donald Trump, that creates a problem he doesn't know how to solve.
Image: Vienna
From left to right, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria, July 14, 2015.
Donald Trump may not know what the international nuclear agreement with Iran is or what it does, but he knows he hates it. The Republican has called the deal "terrible" and "horrible." As a candidate, Trump declared, "My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran."Just one month into his candidacy, he said the Iran deal "poses a direct national security threat." Two weeks later, Trump added that the international agreement "will go down as one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous misjudgments ever entered into in [the] history of our country." After wrapping up the GOP nomination, he went so far as to say the deal is likely to "lead to nuclear holocaust."It therefore must have been terribly disappointing for the Trump administration to declare that the dreaded deal is ... working.

The Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief given to the Islamic republic in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.

Oh. That's probably not quite what Trump expected to say about the agreement he loves to hate.This is not to say supporters of the Iran deal can breathe easy about its future. On the contrary, the Trump administration is still considering plans to break the terms of the agreement.Just because it's working doesn't mean the White House will support it.But at this point, to put it mildly, the debate over one of the Obama administration's most important foreign policy accomplishments hasn't gone the Republicans' way. Two years ago, when GOP officials weren't try to sabotage sensitive international negotiations, they were predicting the inevitable failure of the agreement.At least for now, those predictions were wrong, and it's at least possible that Trump, who's never demonstrated any familiarity with the details of the policy he thinks he hates, will allow the policy to continue.There have been some hints in this direction for a while. Ahead of the election, Walid Phares, one of Trump's foreign policy advisers, suggested Trump would not scrap the Iran agreement if elected, and Trump himself conceded it would be "very hard" to undo the deal. After the election, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the Trump administration may end up abiding by the agreement, and soon after, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) added in February that he believes the Obama-era policy is likely to remain in place.During his confirmation hearings, Defense Secretary James Mattis, asked about the Iran deal, told senators, "I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It's not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies."I'm not prepared to predict what the White House will end up doing -- this is an unpredictable bunch -- but recent history suggests Trump's previous rhetoric shouldn't serve as a guide. Yes, the president condemned the nuclear agreement in no uncertain terms, but he made similar declarations about NATO's obsolescence, China's currency manipulation, the uselessness of the Export-Import Bank, and a half-dozen other issues on which Trump changed his mind after brief conversations with people he found credible.There's no reason the president can't declare he "just found out" that the Iran deal was a good idea after all.