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Trump’s Iran deal announcement leaves ‘America alone,’ Sen. Kaine says

President Trump's announcement that the U.S. is leaving the Iran nuclear deal is going to raise the risk of unnecessary war in the Middle East, says Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. A member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kaine also tells William Brangham that the decision has driven a wedge between the U.S. and European allies, and makes the U.S. weaker.

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  • William Brangham:

    We return now to our lead story, President Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

    It has drawn praise and sparked condemnation.

    One of the critics is Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. He's a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a supporter of the nuclear deal.

    We spoke a short time ago, and I began with his overall reaction.

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    Well, William, I was very, very disappointed.

    This is going the make us less safe. It's going the raise the risk of unnecessary war in the Middle East. And as a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee, with a kid in the United States Marine Corps, I don't think we ought to be undermining diplomacy. I think we ought to be strengthening diplomacy.

  • William Brangham:

    I mean, the president has argued that there were many problems with this deal, that the sunset provisions allow the restrictions on Iran to go away, that the deal doesn't address Iran's development of ballistic missiles, that it doesn't deal with Iran's behavior elsewhere in the region.

    Are those not fair criticisms in your mind?

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    There are fair criticisms of Iran, but those aren't good criticisms of the deal.

    The first sentence of the first paragraph of the deal, William, as you know, Iran pledges never to seek to purchase, acquire, or develop nuclear weapons. Why would the U.S. want to blow up that deal and relieve Iran of that obligation? It makes absolutely no sense.

    And, as you know, the secretary of defense, Secretary Mattis, testified in an open hearing before the Armed Services Committee that the deal was in America's interest and Iran was complying with the deal. So he is ignoring the advice, not only of our allies, but even of his own secretary of defense, and I just see no percentage in it.

  • William Brangham:

    I understand that the deal did have a pledge from Iran never to develop them, but as Prime Minister of Israel Netanyahu showed last week, the Iranians at one point did very actively try to build a nuclear weapons program.

    And the president argues that they signed this deal in bad faith, that you cannot trust them, so that pledge is meaningless in his eyes.

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    Well, the reason that you do a deal is, if you don't trust somebody, you want to get inspections.

    That's what this deal got us that we never had before. And Iran now doesn't have to allow the inspections. That was the core of Secretary Mattis' argument. The deal allowed significant inspections of Iran's nuclear capacity.

    Of course, in the past, they were seeking nuclear weapons. That's why we did the deal to begin. We did it to top their nuclear weapons program. And even the Israeli security officials and Mossad intelligence officials, when I would go to the region and meet with them, they say that Iran has been complying with the deal.

    We should focus our energy and attention on the things that Iran is doing wrong. We gave the White House sanctions authority nearly a year ago to take stiff action against Iranian violation of missile program rules and violations of human rights provisions. The White House has chosen not to use those sanctions tools.

    And instead they're blowing up the one deal that the IAEA, our allies, and our secretary of defense says is actually working.

  • William Brangham:

    The president argues that he can renegotiate this deal, that Iran is financially weak enough, that these new sanctions will bite, and that he can strike a new deal, a better deal. You don't seem to think that's possible.

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    Well, I think it's going to be difficult, because, here, the reason that sanctions bite is if the global community is with us.

    But here we have our allies, Germany, France, Britain, urging us to stay in the deal. We have the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that Iran is complying with the deal. The sanctions bite hard if the world is unified, but what the president has now done is driven a wedge between us and our European allies, in the guise of what he would call America first.

    What he's really pitching is America alone. And America being alone without allies working hand in hand with us on an issue like this doesn't make us stronger. It makes us weaker.

  • William Brangham:

    As you heard, the president today said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way to North Korea right now to start these — the initial talks for that nuclear deal, potential nuclear deal.

    Do you believe what the president did today helps or hurts our negotiating position with the North Koreans?

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    I think it hurts our position with the North Koreans. I'm glad we're having this dialogue. I think dialogue is preferable to not having dialogue.

    But the message to the North Koreans is this – if you do a deal with the United States, and even if the international community and all the agencies say North Korea is complying with the deal, the U.S. is not a reliable partner and will back out of it.

    With respect to the Iran deal, we should keep the focus on Iranian behavior and misbehavior. But what the president has done, he's now turned the focus on America's good faith in keeping a deal that's being complied with. And I think that will reduce the likelihood of North Korea feeling confident enough that they could agree to a deal with the United States.

  • William Brangham:

    Do you have a sense what the Iranians are going to do now? We heard President Rouhani made some comment about how he would like to stay in the deal with the Europeans, perhaps with China and Russia.

    But there also seemed to be a hint that they might perhaps put in place the ability to start up their program again. What is your sense of what they're going to do next?

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    I don't — I'm not for sure, but here's what my gut tells me. I think that they will probably try to work together with the European allies, Russia, and China to continue to comply with some aspects of the deal, so that those nations will help them economically.

    By doing that, they will effectively drive a wedge between the United States and our European allies, which is a problem. But what I also expect Iran to do is, because the deal involved them agreeing to some very specific and heightened inspections, I think you will see them say, well, President Trump is out of the deal. We don't have to do the rigorous inspections that the deal required.

    I think you will start to see them scaling back on allowing inspections, even if they don't immediately start up activity to develop plutonium or uranium.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, thank you very much.

  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.:

    Absolutely.

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