Trump was partly motivated by an op-ed written by John Bolton, according to rumors in administration circles. Bolton was the George W. Bush administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, and has worked for several Republican White Houses. Apparently, Bolton’s opinion still carries weight with Trump.
For the certification process of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the executive branch has to write a letter to Congress explaining whether or not Iran is fulfilling its side of the bargain. The language of this most recent letter avoided using the word “compliance.” Instead, it said, “Conditions … are met.”
This was the second time the Trump administration had to meet the reporting requirement for the JCPOA certification. In May, the first time it came up, the president insisted that the bureaucracy make changes in the letter, so Secretary Tillerson made a strong statement about Iran the next day.
According to Bolton, Iran cooperates with North Korea on ballistic missiles. He said, “In 1998 North Korea said it would have a moratorium on launch testing from the peninsula, which lasted until 2006. During that period, the Iranians were testing for them. Both use the same Soviet-era Scud technology, their objective to use the missiles as delivery vehicles for nuclear weapons is the same, they’re both rogue states. So are they working together on the nuclear side? There’s circumstantial evidence, like the reactor in the Syrian desert that Israel destroyed in 2007, which was modeled after the North Korean reactor Yongbyon and had North Korean scientists working there. What better place for the Iranians and North Koreans to work on illicit activities than where no is looking for it—except the Israelis found it. What if there’s a uranium-enrichment facility under a mountain in North Korea paid for by Iran? Transactionally, it’s not hard to imagine. North Korea needs money and Iran can afford it. Even worse is the possibility that the day North Korea gets the capability to reach the United States with a nuclear weapon, Iran can get it the next day by writing a check.”
Bolton says it’s not clear whether or not the Trump administration ceding Syria to Iran. He said, “I don’t think there’s a post-ISIS strategy for the region. It’s coming to the point where the collapse of ISIS is visible, by the end of the year, maybe. But the government doesn’t seem to have a full understanding of what comes after that. Or what else is going on. For instance, what happens when Iran gets the arc of control of the region, from Iran through the Iraqi government in Baghdad to the Assad regime in Syria to the eastern Mediterranean and Hezbollah. And there doesn’t seem to be an appreciation of the fact that Russia is on the wrong side of that arc.”