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Trump Can Crack Down on Iran Without Shredding the Nuclear Deal

The great negotiator should make the case for new sanctions to the other nations that signed the pact.

As a candidate, President-elect Donald Trump said his "No. 1 priority" was to dismantle the "disastrous" nuclear deal with Iran. Tempting as that may be, Trump should resist. Instead, the man who fancies himself the world's greatest negotiator should use U.S. leverage to hold Iran to the letter of the agreement.

This is the hard work of diplomacy, which takes place mostly out of public view and off Twitter. At least Trump's job will be made easier by Congress, which just extended the Iran Sanctions Act, allowing the U.S. to punish Iranian entities involved with terrorism, illegal weapons and human-rights violations. Trump can and should also end the de facto policy of looking the other way at Iran's early infringements of the pact, such as the recent revelation that it had exceeded the deal's cap on how much heavy water it is allowed to stockpile.

Trump should make clear he will have no tolerance for even minor transgressions such as this one. The new administration should go to the five other nations that signed the deal to negotiate an across-the-board response, such as reinstituting sanctions on some Iranian companies. If those other nations demur, the U.S. can then level the sanctions unilaterally.

In the long term, the six nations should try to negotiate changes in both the nuclear pact itself and the related side agreements (all of which the U.S. should make public). Iran may well be willing to come to the table. It complains that it has seen very little of the estimated $100 billion of its assets that had been frozen in foreign banks, due to other U.S. sanctions and rules making it hard to "dollarize" the funds for transfer. In addition, the hoped-for rush of investment by European energy companies -- and the banks that accompany them -- has been slow to materialize.

As for U.S. investment, so far only Boeing has received a waiver to enter the Iranian market, and even that could be revoked should Iran continue to support terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Many Iranian companies are also hampered in doing global business by U.S. money-laundering laws.

All this gives the parties to the agreement plenty of leverage with Iran. What could they ask for in return? There are a few changes possible to the nuclear deal itself, such as a stricter limit on the number of centrifuges Iran is allowed to use for "civilian" nuclear research and a longer ban on its production of weapons-grade fuel. More feasible is a renegotiation of the side deal on inspections of suspected nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Currently, the system relies too much on Iranian self-reporting and allows Iran to delay inspectors for up to 54 days after a request to visit a site.

Outside the context of the nuclear deal, Trump should use U.S. sanctions more forcefully to crack down on Iran's illegal ballistic missiles. He should also expand on President Barack Obama's effort to better arm Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies, particularly their anti-missile defenses.

Dismantling the Iran nuclear deal, as Trump has promised, would certainly please many of his supporters. But the satisfaction would be short-lived. The president-elect can better serve U.S. interests -- and the cause of regional stability -- by playing a longer game.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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