October 19, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1351

Trump's 'New Strategy On Iran': The Price Of Indecision Is Accepting The Reality Of A Nuclear Iran, With Its Regional Expansion – Which Will Result In Escalation Of Its Political And Military Activity Against The U.S.

October 19, 2017 | By A. Savyon and Yigal Carmon*
Iran, Russia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1351

IRGC Commander 'Ali Jaafari: "Iran bears the banner of the fulfillment of God's promises. It has taken a historic turn, and today a new era of global developments is beginning... [This era] started with imposing significant defeats upon the camp of the Great Arrogance, America. We saw the signs of the defeat in the speech of the U.S. president, who was frightened and helpless, and his voice shook...

--Tasnim (Iran), October 19, 2017.  



There is no room for doubt about U.S. President Donald Trump's fundamental approach to Iran's Islamic revolutionary regime and to the JCPOA nuclear agreement with it. However, in his October 13, 2017 speech, in which he ostensibly set out a new Iran strategy, he publicly reconfirmed, in his own words, the same policy he has maintained since taking office. This policy has two main characteristics: a) inability to deal with the Iranian threat and with the supporters of the nuclear deal in his own administration, in the U.S., and in Europe (and, obviously, also with Russia and China); and b) inability to make decisions that he, as president, is authorized to make, handing them off instead to others, such as Congress, allies of the U.S., and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Trump's speech reflects the significant gap that exists between his fiery rhetoric against a nuclear Iran and against its regional expansion, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, his administration's actions that are contrary to this rhetoric.

MEMRI has discussed this gap in a number of recent articles.[1]

Trump's October 13 Speech – Analysis And Ramifications

President Trump's October 13, 2017 speech, in which he outlined his "New Strategy on Iran,"[2] underlines the recurring characteristics of his leadership. Real decisions, such as "terminating" the agreement, are pushed off to the future, as he (temporarily) relinquishes his exclusive executive authority regarding the agreement and instead turns it over to a broad framework of partners – Congress, in consultation with U.S. allies. Actions such as designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a foreign terror organization are not made at all; instead, sanctions against the IRGC are promised, without clarification as to whether these will be against the organization itself or against individuals within it. In any event, the U.S. Treasury Department noted on its website that the U.S. had not designated the IRGC a terrorist organization.[3] Indeed, President Trump has decertified the JCPOA, but it should be clarified that decertification concerns only internal Congressional legislative procedures, and has no bearing on the U.S.'s continued commitment to the JCPOA – as even Iranian officials have pointed out. Indeed, decertification does not involve re-imposition of the nuclear-related sanctions, and the president has not asked Congress to reactivate these sanctions. He has left the U.S. in the agreement, under which it is now also obligated to continue the process of suspension of sanctions.

The Price Of Refraining From Dealing With The Iranian Threat And From Exercising Presidential Powers

The enormity of the challenge that President Trump is facing cannot be overstated: He is standing against a) Iran and its allies Russia, China, and North Korea; b) his own national security team – Secretary of State Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and National Security Advisor McMaster, all of whom believe that the JCPOA serves U.S. national security interests and who oppose conflict with Iran for fear that it will lead to war; and c) the heads of the European countries who are party to the JCPOA, and who have an economic interest in its continuation. This coalition against Trump in this matter also includes the pro-Iran lobby in the U.S. and a significant part of the U.S. media.

As a result, acceptance of the JCPOA is cemented, and Iran's status as a member of the nuclear club is confirmed. Likewise, Iran's presence in Syria, as a "regional power," is legitimized in resolutions in the Astana Process, and in the agreement concerning the de-escalation zones in Syria in which the U.S. administration is a partner along with Russia. In effect, Trump already accepted the JCPOA in April 2017, when the U.S. joined the G7 statement stating that the U.S. supports the agreement,[4] but this fact has been downplayed. In his October 13 speech, Trump effectively cemented his administration's recognition of the JCPOA, and U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson reconfirmed this on October 15 in an interview with CNN.

True, Trump warned in his speech that "in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated," and clarified that it "can be canceled by me, as president, at any time."[5] However, while this statement should be put to the test of time, his failure to point out the problems that Congress and the allies need to tackle in order to "reach a solution" – problems vital to every decision on the future of the agreement – makes this declaration at this stage invalid and irrelevant.

The Historic Decisions That President Trump Faces

At the heart of dealing with the Iranian threat is the need to cancel the JCPOA, because under it Iran can continue to develop nuclear weapons because of the lack of real inspection. Also under the JCPOA, it is expanding regionally and threatening other countries and the U.S. itself.

Against the partly valid argument that democratic states must honor the agreements to which they are signatories, there is the principle that democratic states are not meant to honor agreements that threaten their security and global security, particularly with aggressive rogue states that leverage agreements in order to step up their aggression. Not only are there historic precedents for this, but there are also examples from the past decade. For instance, there has been a series of agreements that the U.S. signed with North Korea that have been exploited by the latter to develop a military nuclear threat against the U.S. and its Asian allies.

In his October 13 speech, President Trump ignored facts that are critical and vital for any decision on the future of the JCPOA – facts that the coalition supporting the agreement cannot deny. These are:

  • Trump ignored that Iran is violating the agreement not only in "spirit," as he said, but in the letter of actual articles in the agreement. The agreement is not "working," as asserted by the coalition supporting it, whose main argument in favor of continuing the JCPOA is based on the IAEA's repeated false confirmations that Iran is abiding by the agreement, ever since the agreement came into force. MEMRI has recently discussed this issue in depth and has presented evidence, as have other research institutions in the U.S.[6]

  • Trump ignored that the JCPOA has created a unique framework of inspection for Iran, which is different from the inspection framework for other countries. This framework allows Iran to evade real inspection. The inspection that is being carried out, based on which the IAEA has for the past two years falsely confirmed that Iran is abiding by the agreement, is carried out solely in the limited areas where Iran allows inspection – that is, the sites that it itself has declared to be nuclear sites. At any other site in Iran, including military facilities, Iran can reject IAEA inspection, based on the JCPOA and without violating it.[7]

  • Trump ignored that the IAEA's powers vis-à-vis Iran have been curtailed; it is acting according to political dictates and is subject to decisions by a political body, the Joint Commission of the JCPOA, whose members include Iran itself and its allies, Russia, and China, alongside U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, and the IAEA, and which was created in order to take statutory decision-making out of the IAEA's hands.

  • Trump ignored that the IAEA is not carrying out even the inspections that it is authorized to carry out based on the Additional Protocol, which Iran has undertaken, albeit "voluntarily." While President Trump offhandedly mentioned that Iran has prevented the IAEA from carrying out inspections, he did not define this as a violation of the agreement and did not draw any practical conclusions from this.

  • Trump also ignored what is perhaps the most egregious example of the IAEA's dereliction of its duty, namely Secretary-General Yukiya Amano's failure to wield his professional authority vis-à-vis Section T of the JCPOA, which prohibits "activities which could contribute to the development of a nuclear explosive device." Instead of enforcing this prohibition through inspection, or announcing that Iran is violating it by not allowing such inspection, he raised Iran's refusal to allow inspection as an issue to be resolved by the Joint Commission,[8] that is, an issue to be resolved by the political, rather than the professional, echelon.

The disagreement between Amano and the Iranians over the application of Section T highlights yet another fact that Trump ignored, and which he should have mentioned in any challenge of the agreements' validity. This is the fact that the agreement, which in essence is intended to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon – as its supporters boast – does not actually ban Iran from "designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using multi-point explosive detonation systems suitable for a nuclear explosive device", nor is it banned from "designing, developing, fabricating, acquiring, or using explosive diagnostic systems (streak cameras, framing cameras and flash x-ray cameras)", as long as these activities are "approved by the Joint Commission for non-nuclear purposes" and subject to monitoring. Iran, however, does not allow this monitoring.

President Trump also failed to mention two major points regarding the implementation of the agreement, which make a mockery of the agreement's core goals:

1. According to a report by the Obama administration's State Department lead coordinator on Iran, Stephen Mull, the IAEA's authority of oversight over Iran's inventory of 8.5 tons of enriched uranium that was shipped out of Iran in December 2015 in accordance with the JCPOA, was taken away from the IAEA by the U.S. and given to Russia, with the consent of the parties to the JCPOA and the IAEA itself. This was done without even determining where Russia would store this nuclear fuel, and without U.S. verification of this. Indeed, Mull said, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on February 11, 2016 that "it has not yet been decided where exactly Russia will put this information [sic]."[9] He went on to say: "We do not have concerns about Russian custody of this material."[10] Amano himself agreed that the oversight of the enriched Iranian uranium be removed from his responsibility.

2. The parties to the JCPOA, with the consent of the IAEA, agreed to a scandalous procedure for dealing with Iran's heavy water. They transformed Iran into an exporter of heavy water without subjecting it to the export control system to which other exporters, such as Canada and India, are subject. According to standard IAEA verification practices, changes in heavy water inventory are registered not when the heavy water is removed from the territory of the country exporting it, but only when it arrives at the destination country that purchased it. Iran was exempted from this rule. In the decision to store Iran's excess heavy water in Oman and by accepting a limited role of oversight of only the removal of the heavy water from Iranian territory, and subsequently subtracting it from the quota of heavy water permitted to Iran, as if the water had already been sold and arrived at its destination, the IAEA violated its own rules applied to all other countries. The IAEA is not reporting on these ongoing systematic violations.[11]

President Trump did not even mention any of these inherent flaws in the agreement – perhaps because he is not aware of them.[12] The fact that he has not mentioned them – neither in his October 13 speech, nor in all his public appearances in which he mentions the agreement, besides saying in general that it is so bad – together with his adoption of a policy of indecision and procrastination result in an unwitting continuation of Obama's Iran policy, at least for the time being.  

What Alternative Is There To The JCPOA? – A Question Rendered Moot By Experience With North Korea And Iran

The coalition that supports the JCPOA also asks another weighty question: What alternative is there to the JCPOA that will provide stability to the region and to the world? The glaring flaws of the agreement shown above clearly belie the assumption that the agreement provides any stability to the region and to the world. Any apparent stability is illusory and fleeting; under the JCPOA, Iran is strengthening its geopolitical and military status, expanding in the region, and posing a greater challenge that combines regional expansion with a future nuclear threat based on religious anti-West ideology.

The Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime, is threatening world peace, not only its enemies in the Middle East.[13] This threat has both ideological and practical expressions, including developing long-range ballistic missiles and building a subversive infrastructure by means of terror organizations, proxy organizations, and networks of activists, including in West, that serve Iran's revolutionary regime. For more on these ideological and practical aspects of Iran's activity, as articulated by the Iran's religious and military leadership, see MEMRI reports in the Appendix to this report.

The real question is: Can a policy based on concessions or on procrastination prevent a real military threat by an aggressive rogue regime?

Even the contemporary experience with North Korea, which is supported by China and Russia, shows that the policy of agreements based on concessions made in the hope that they will rein in dictators is ineffective. North Korea is only escalating its military threat, which includes ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Iran's Reaction To Trump's Speech – An Assessment

Based on MEMRI's years-long monitoring of the ideological statements and military activity of the Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran, as amply detailed in the reports listed in the Appendix, we assess that President Trump's failure to make real decisions against the JCPOA and against Iran's regional expansion will not lead to calm in the region – not even temporarily – let alone to any sort of stability.

Trump's New Strategy on Iran, which expresses indecision and procrastination, is identified by the Iranians as weakness. Prominent examples of this perception are recent statements by Iranian regime spokesmen, which demonstrate the Iranians' conviction that their violent threats have deterred Trump from designating the IRGC a foreign terror organization.[14] Trump's new strategy is actually encouraging the Iranian regime to step up its military threats to the countries in the region, and to the U.S., as shown by immediate Iranian reactions to his October 13 speech, for example:

An October 15 tweet by former Iranian negotiating team member and Iranian Ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad: "Trump did not succeed in cancelling the JCPOA and did not dare to add the IRGC to the list of terror organizations." 

An October 15 editorial by the Kayhan daily, which is the mouthpiece of the Iranian regime and is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, saying: "It will not take long until we see the American troops forced to leave their permanent and mobile bases [in the Middle East] and hand them over to the governments of the region, due to the influence and prestige of the IRGC and of the popular forces in the region that are linked to it."

A statement by the IRGC said: "The IRGC, which enjoys the support of the entire [Iranian] people and is under the command of the Leader, Khamenei, will cooperate with the other armed forces, and with God's help it will ceaselessly continue, and will [even] intensify and accelerate, [the promotion of] Iran's regional influence, power and missile-development ability."[15]

Perhaps the clearest reaction was by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself, who said, on October 18: "I do not want to waste time... in responding to the statements by the American president... Iran's officials have given a good and proper response to Trump's nonsense... The president and the rulers of America are not internalizing the developments in Iran and in the region, and therefore they suffer from mental retardation... and are defeated time after time by the Iranian nation. The Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini rightly and precisely defined the arrogant American regime as 'the Great Satan.' This time too, America will be slapped in the face by the Iranian nation, and will be defeated."[16]

*A. Savyon is Director of the MEMRI Iran Media Project; Yigal Carmon is President of MEMRI.


Ideological Aspects

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1286, The Regional Vision Of Iran's Islamic Regime And Its Military-Political Implementation, Part I – The Ideological Doctrine: Exporting The Revolution; Iran As 'Umm Al-Qura', December 7, 2016.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5996, Iranian Leader Khamenei: A Society Steeped In The Spirit Of Martyrdom Is Unstoppable; Khamenei's Representative In IRGC Qods Force: We Shall Not Rest Until We Raise Flag Of Islam Over The White House, March 17, 2015.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6133, Khamenei's IRGC Representative: Lebanon, Gaza, Bahrain, Syria Constitute Iran's Essential Strategic Depth, August 14, 2015.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5991, Advisor To Iranian President Rohani: Iran Is An Empire, Iraq Is Our Capital; We Will Defend All The Peoples Of The Region; Iranian Islam Is Pure Islam – Devoid Of Arabism, Racism, Nationalism, March 9, 2015.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 946,

Iranian Official: The Loss Of Syria Will Lead To The Loss Of Tehran Itself; Syria Is An Iranian Province; Iran Has Formed A 60,000-Strong Syrian Basij; Israel Is Our Only Threat, March 11, 2013.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5716, IRGC Qods Force Commander Soleimani: 'War Is A Grand School For Love, Morals, [And] Loyalty', April 20, 2014.

The Iranian Expansion In The Middle East

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6429, Iranian Officials Tout Iran's Regional Supremacy: Future Cooperation Between Iran, Russia, Iraq And Lebanon Will Also Include Yemen; The Prospects For A Resistance Axis Victory Over The Zionist Regime Are Now Greater Than Ever, May 13, 2016.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1157, Iran Tightens Its Grip On Syria Using Syrian And Foreign Forces, May 4, 2015.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1155, Iran's Support For The Houthi Rebellion In Yemen: 'Without Iran There Would Be No War In Syria And Ansar Allah Would Have Never Emerged', April 20, 2015.

Anti-U.S. Hostility And Threats

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6316, On Iran's Islamic Revolution Day, IRGC Officials Slam U.S., February 22, 2016.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6004, Iran Escalates Naval Threats Against U.S. In Persian Gulf, March 24, 2015.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5975, In 'Great Prophet 9' Naval Maneuvers, IRGC Practices Destroying U.S. Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carrier, February 25, 2015.


[2], October 13, 2017.

[3], October 13, 2017.  In this sense, Trump's statements on sanctions against the IRGC were misleading, since imposing sanctions on individuals in the IRGC does not constitute designating the IRGC a terror organization.  

[4] Delegations/russia, April 13, 2017.

[5], October 13, 2017.

[6] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1348, The JCPOA's Critical Flaw Is Its Lack Of Real Inspection By The IAEA; Those Focusing On Iran's Ballistic Missiles And The JCPOA's Sunset Clause Are Evading The Urgent Issue – The Need For Real Inspection Now, October 3, 2017; IISS report "Update on Iran's Compliance with the JCPOA Nuclear Limits – Iran's Centrifuge Breakage Problem: Accidental Compliance," September 21, 2017, For further evidence of violations of the JCPOA, see  German intelligence report from 2016 on Iranian attempts to purchase equipment for military nuclear purposes (, July 8, 2016).

[8] Reuters, September 26, 2017.

[9], February 16, 2016. The report continued: "But under questioning, Mull acknowledged that Washington did not verify the Iranian shipment, part of Tehran's nuclear agreement with the P5+1 nations. The official said Russia, rather than the International Atomic Energy Agency, was responsible for the Iranian uranium. Instead, IAEA attended the loading of the Iranian uranium on the Russian ship."

[10] Associated Press,, February 16, 2016. The report stated: "Following the hearing, a senior administration official said the Iranian stockpile is in Russia, where it will be stored in a secure place, but did not specify where. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity."

[11] See "IAEA Takes A Light Touch On Iran's Heavy Water," Olli Heinonen,, April 28, 2016, and IISS report "Heavy Water Loophole in the Iran Deal," ISIS-online, December 21, 2016.

[12] The failure of Trump – who opposes the agreement so vehemently – to address or even mention these critical points may suggest that his national defense team has been derelict in its duty to inform him about them.  

[14] In the near future, MEMRI will publish reports detailing several of  these threats.

[15], October 19, 2017.

[16], October 18, 2017. 

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