Former President Barack Obama offered a rare public rebuttal to President Donald Trump on Tuesday, calling his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear “a serious mistake.”
Obama has been reluctant to speak out on most issues during the Trump presidency, sticking to a precedent set by previous chief executives of remaining quiet except on major decisions like ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. But the potential unraveling of his signature foreign policy initiative prompted a 12-paragraph statement outlining his arguments for the agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and fears about its demise.
“We all know the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon,” he wrote. “If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it.”
Trump has long been outspoken in his criticism of Obama and the deal, which he blasted as “decaying” in his announcement on Tuesday. The U.S. is planning to reimpose a set of sanctions within months, though Iran said it would seek to preserve the deal during a limited period of talks with its other signatories, China, France, Russia, Germany, Britain and the European Union.
But Obama emphasized that the deal “was never intended to solve all of our problems with Iran,” and he warned that undermining it despite no clear evidence of Iranian violations could hasten an arms race or outright regional conflict.
“The reality is clear,” he wrote. “The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense.”
Obama also said violating the deal could undermine the United States’ credibility on the international stage. He said the JCPOA had worked to halt Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon, highlighting its international inspections and noting that some of its provisions were permanent.
U.S. allies and adversaries that were party to the agreement had urged the Trump administration not to tear it up. But Trump deemed the JCPOA a bad deal that failed to make the U.S. safer, and said he was following through on his promises.
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