Iran is Getting Nuclear Waivers From the State Department

The constitution gives the president of America responsibility for and control over key parts of foreign policy. That is, it gives the power to negotiate treaties with other foreign states to the executive and its chief executive officer, the president. While Congress - both in terms of declaring war and advice and consent - has a key role in foreign policy, treaties themselves are clearly the prerogative of the executive power in America.

But unfortunately, that careful dividing up of responsibilities for foreign affairs begins to fall apart when the executive itself becomes divided over how to enforce a treaty. Or whether to enforce it or instead withdraw. Which is the case with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the Iran Deal.

Put simply, we have a problem at State when it comes to the JCPOA.

The State Department is part of the executive, needless to say, and therefore if its operations are not quite at the pleasure of the president, its key officials do indeed serve at the pleasure of the Chief Executive. Just ask Rex Tillerson.

What seems to be going on at State is that a series of energy waivers - who can buy oil from Iran despite the sanctions - are also being coupled with a series of nuclear waivers that allow certain types of highly advanced activity within Iran's nuclear sector. Here's the Washington Free Beacon's Adam Kredo:

These waivers, which have allowed Iran to legally continue its lucrative oil trade and nuclear research, are viewed as undermining President Donald Trump's efforts to strangle the Iranian regime and topple its economy. While the White House has pressed forward with numerous efforts on this front, the State Department has taken a softer approach by continuing to issue waivers that insiders view as part of a larger effort by some administration officials to keep the landmark nuclear deal on life support throughout Trump's presidency.

So, what we have is a battle between the White House and Obama holdovers at the State Department who are committed to keeping the JCPOA alive by the drip-feed of waivers in order to resuscitate the Golem after the evil one has left the White House. It's interesting to note that as a sort of camouflage tactic, everyone blames President Trump for the ensuring confusion while in fact what we have is insubordination by officials at State who refuse to execute the polices the President has proclaimed.

As an example of this, here's a piece by Lara Seligman in Foreign Policy about troop withdrawals from Syria, another area of disagreement between Trump and the State Department, as well as the Department of Defense:

State and Defense Department officials are at odds over the interpretation of the president's guidance to depart from Syria, said one U.S. government source. The Pentagon on Jan. 11 announced that it had begun to withdraw equipment, if not troops, from Syria.

"DoD and State appear to be in an all-out war with each other," which is "exacerbated by a disconnect between the president and his national security staff," the source said.

Officials also say the Pentagon appears to be out of the loop on key decisions. A classified briefing by top U.S. military brass before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week yielded few answers about the overarching strategy, a congressional source told Foreign Policy.

This should be thrashed out in Cabinet meetings, and maybe it is. But the leaking and the resistance by key government officials to policy that the President has announced is part of an all too familiar pattern. Here's Adam Kredo at the Free Beacon again:

The White House and State Department have repeatedly been at odds over just how far to go in penalizing Iran, causing friction within the administration among Iran hawks who see an opportunity to possibly collapse the hardline ruling regime, according to multiple U.S. officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The Free Beacon has reported multiple times during the past months on efforts by some State Department officials to continue issuing oil waivers to a range of countries that purchase Iranian crude. However, the issue of these separate but similar nuclear waivers is stirring yet another battle not only within the administration, but among Iran hawks on Capitol Hill who want the White House to follow through on its promise to fully sanction Tehran.

The competing policy goals are generating confusion on Capitol Hill, where some of the administration's most vocal backers are going on the record to condemn what they view as the State Department's efforts to give Iran a pass on its most contested nuclear research work.

Is President Trump uninterested in details and leaves Cabinet Secretaries to fight it out to an extent unseen before? Or is the real difference the fact that the amount of leaking by various factions opposed to Trump and to his policies is greater than ever before?

While speculation about this feeds the media frenzy around this administration, we still have a real problem at the core of this latest battle between hawks and establishment foreign policy officials at State who still lean, if not outright push, Obama's way. Should Iran be getting nuclear waivers?

Secretary of State Pompeo needs to be a bridge between his President and officials at State who are sometimes outrightly hostile towards Trump. It's an impossible situation in some ways, but tough luck Mr. Pompeo. It's your job to help clean up this mess.

Posted by Keeley at April 9, 2019 5:45 PM
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