On Tuesday, the Trump Administration did something surprising: it embraced Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, in writing, to Congress. If you didn’t notice, that is likely because another surprising Iran-related thing happened the next day: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided some fairly adept political cover for Trump’s sudden shift with a raft of well-crafted and purpose-built diplomatic language.
This was, to be clear, the full-twisting Tsukahara of Trump’s recent foreign policy flip-flops. Trump has repeatedly called the Iran deal the worst ever, and swore to tear it up immediately on entering office. In fact, Trump could have killed the deal this week just by doing nothing. With a set of Congressionally-required 90-day certifications expiring, Trump could have said he was unable to guarantee Iran was complying with the deal and it would have started to collapse on its own.
Instead, Tillerson, acting as Trump’s delegated agent, on Tuesday sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan declaring that Iran was complying with U.N. requirements to constrain its nuclear program. Not that he wanted anyone to notice. The operative part of his note is indecipherable to an average reader: “This letter certifies that the conditions of Section 135(d)(6) of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (AEA), as amended, including as amended by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-17), enacted May 22, 2015, are met as of April 18, 2017.”
Tillerson was decidedly less opaque on Wednesday at a very brief press availability in the ornate Treaty Room at the State Department. “Today I’d like to address Iran’s alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time,” Tillerson said. He proceeded to lay out a long list of bad things Iran is doing, from sponsoring terrorism to oppressing its own people to violating U.N. constraints on its missile program. When it came to the nuclear deal, he said it failed to ensure Iran won’t become a nuclear state in the future…