Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project, writes for CNN Opinion, where his columns won the Deadline Club opinion writing award. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” he was formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News. Follow him @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own; view more opinion at CNN.
There is a belief, only reinforced after his speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, that President Donald Trump is positioning the globe for hurtling toward nuclear proliferation, courting disaster.
Trump’s defiant messaging – given Iran’s steadfast adherence to a nuclear deal that the United States wants desperately to kill – is powerful evidence of looming troubles.
Playing to an American audience and voters in the November midterm elections, Trump began his half-hour speech to the UN General Assembly by boasting about the accomplishments of his presidency.
Enunciating the theme of many of his private conversations with world leaders on the UN’s sidelines, Trump said the theme of this week is sovereignty: “standing up for America and the American people.”
Indeed, Trump was not to be denied the limelight. Though the UN pointedly observes “Delegations are reminded that statements should not exceed four minutes,” Trump rambled on for more than a half hour.
But while he was busy expounding to the various nations assembled in the UN’s grand assembly chamber, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani was busily making the rounds, schmoozing New York’s media and diplomatic elites. In doing so he reinforced the impression that Donald Trump’s intransigence can only help those he would hurt and hurt those he might be prepared to help – or at least do no harm.
There was no indication that Trump and Rouhani will meet this week, a hope that seemed all but torpedoed by Trump’s characterization of the regime as “a corrupt dictatorship” and his comment that “they do not respect neighbors or borders or the sovereign rights of nations.”
“Instead, Iran’s leaders plunder the nation’s resources to enrich themselves and spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond. Their leaders have embezzled billions from Iran’s treasury to line their own pocket,” and he added, to facilitate proxies to wage war.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, before Trump’s inflammatory speech, Rouhani calmly and collectedly observed that Iran will remain in Syria “until terrorism is completely eradicated” – adding there is no way Trump can achieve his apparent goal of bringing Iran’s oil sales to zero when sanctions on its oil industry kick in November 4.
Instead, the boycott has simply had the salubrious effect for Iran of raising the price of oil to a four-year high when OPEC nations and Russia refused last weekend to raise production to counter any shortfall.
Russia will also find an immediate windfall as oil prices surge, helping to neutralize the immediate bite of any Western sanctions.
Since Iran has no intention of cutting its sales abroad, China, India and Turkey are delighted to find a new, willing supplier, despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent trip to cultivate India’s leaders.
But two key constituencies of Donald Trump risk being hurt immediately and substantially. American consumers will inevitably find the price of gas higher at the pump.
The other key target is Europe, which is already doing its level best to subvert the American boycott while providing every incentive for Iran to respect the seven-party agreement that will continue to restrain its development of nuclear weapons.
European motorists will also be seeing higher prices at the gas pump. And any number of European companies, fearful of running afoul of American sanctions, have begun pulling out of Tehran, though some will do their level best to stay on if European governments can clear the way.
Europe has already begun the process of creating an alternative to the SWIFT payments transfer system that would wean its banks from dependence on the American managed system while at the same time allowing Iranian banks to transfer funds, including oil revenues, through European institutions.
On Monday evening, the remaining signatories of the nuclear agreement issued a defiant statement, supporting the agreement and encouraging Iran’s respect for its provisions.
Get our free weekly newsletter
“The participants recognized that Iran has continued to fully and effectively implement its nuclear-related commitments as confirmed by 12 consecutive reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” said the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and Iran.
Indeed, Trump has met so far this week with only one European leader – French President Emmanuel Macron – with whom he once had quite an amicable relationship, but that has since been fractured by the sanctions on Iran and efforts to torpedo the nuclear agreement.
A French official afterwards told the leading French daily Le Monde, diplomatically, that “the points of disagreement are still there, but as is the case with Iran, they are concerned more with the methods than with the objectives.”
The future of the deal may rest on Iran’s willingness to adhere to the letter – if not the full spirit – of the seven-party agreement. And if Trump continues on his current course, he could well fracture, even more deeply, relations with a united Europe that have proved so strong for decades.