A State Department Gone Rogue on Iran

A State Department Gone Rogue on Iran, JerusalemPostMatthew R.J. Brodsky, July 24, 2017

Final round of negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran continue in Vienna November 21, 2014. (photo credit:REUTERS)

According to a recent report, the president assigned a White House team to focus on the Iran deal and sideline the State Department so that he has more options when the issue comes to the fore again in three months.

It’s not just Iran where the president sees a problem; the secretary has been actively tugging in the opposite direction when it comes to solving the Qatar crisis and on a host of issues related to Israel as well.

In many ways, the different view at the State Department should be expected, not just due to institutional issues where diplomats usually prefer finesse to force but because of personnel considerations as well.

Barack Obama holdovers are driving the State Department’s Iran policy.


For the second time during Donald Trump’s brief tenure as president, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department won in the inter-administration battle over the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That victory, however, may end up being short lived given the trajectory of the administration’s overall developing policy toward the regime in Tehran and the process by which the reoccurring 90-day certification of Iran took place in April and again on July 17.

The whole ordeal cast a light on the shrinking esteem in which the president seems to hold Secretary Tillerson and the crew of Obama-era holdovers upon whose guidance he relies.

Washington was briefly abuzz on the afternoon of July 17 when rumors began to circulate that President Trump was eager to declare that Iran was in breach of the conditions laid out in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA).

Those receptive antennas were further heightened given the previous signals sent. After all, the State Department already released talking points to reporters on the decision to recertify Iran. The Treasury Department also had a package of fresh sanctions on over a dozen Iranian individuals and entities ready to announce to appease the hawks who were eager to cut loose from the deal.

But Trump didn’t want to recertify Iran, nor did he want to the last time around in April. That evening, a longtime Middle East analyst close to senior White House officials involved in the discussions described the scene to me: “Tillerson essentially told the president, ‘we just aren’t ready with our allies to decertify.’ The president retorted, ‘Isn’t it your job to get our allies ready?’ to which Tillerson said, ‘Sorry sir, we’re just not ready.’” According to this source, Secretary Tillerson pulled the same maneuver when it came to recertification in April by waiting until the last minute before finally admitting the State Department wasn’t ready. On both occasions he simply offered something to the effect of, “We’ll get ‘em next time.”

That for the second time, Team Tillerson forced the president to recertify Iran because they prepared no other options appears to have left a mark on Trump.

According to a recent report, the president assigned a White House team to focus on the Iran deal and sideline the State Department so that he has more options when the issue comes to the fore again in three months.

It’s not just Iran where the president sees a problem; the secretary has been actively tugging in the opposite direction when it comes to solving the Qatar crisis and on a host of issues related to Israel as well.

In many ways, the different view at the State Department should be expected, not just due to institutional issues where diplomats usually prefer finesse to force but because of personnel considerations as well.

Most pundits have pointed to the dwindling bench of the department’s roster. After all, many positions remain unfilled. When Tillerson chose Elliott Abrams to serve as deputy secretary, a well-known conservative who served under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, Trump even intervened to quash the appointment. The problem, however, is more about the people already in the department, rather than those yet to be appointed or hired.

Barack Obama holdovers are driving the State Department’s Iran policy.

They include Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Chris Backemeyer, who previously served as the director for Iran at the National Security Council (NSC) under Obama; and Deputy Assistant Secretary and former US special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney. The first two were directly involved in the recertification fiasco – twice. They, among others, made their careers selling the Iran deal and are dedicated to its preservation.

In April, the first draft of the language “was full of Obama-era lines” including several falsehoods promoting the utility of the JCPOA, such as the deal verifiably puts Iran a year away from a nuclear weapon, this source explained.

“There was a huge fight after they wrote it because some said it was too pro-deal and it used all kinds of Obama language.”

“The White House went ballistic,” he said, “and they forced rewrites until they had a statement that was just a few lines.”

The revised version praised neither the deal nor Iran’s actions and pointed to the NSC-led interagency review of the JCPOA – a White House victory on the language used but a State Department win on preserving the status quo in policy.

“Backemeyer and Shannon wrote the certification,” the source confirmed, “and they were closely involved in the certification process this time around.”

For an administration that otherwise sounds determined to curtail Iran’s expansionist ambitions, it’s a wonder that the same people who brought the deal across the finish line, made careers out of selling the deal and helped fill Tehran’s financial coffers are still running the show at the State Department.

What’s more, Secretary Tillerson seems supportive of that decision or oblivious to its impact.

In either case, the department is in open insubordination to the White House and neither scenario reflects well on the secretary or his team. Nevertheless, whether or not his days are numbered, the current policy of rubber stamping Iran’s certification certainly appears to be coming to an end.

The author is a senior fellow at the Security Studies Group in Washington, DC, a senior Middle East analyst at Wikistrat and a former director of policy at the Jewish Policy Center. 

Explore posts in the same categories: Department of State, Iran scam, JCPOA, Obama hold-overs, Secretary of State Tillerson, Trump and Iran, Trump and Iran scam

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25 Comments on “A State Department Gone Rogue on Iran”

  1. The Department of State is the largest government agency by far. It’s populated with globalists who will fight Trump’s foreign policy tooth and nail. Some have even said the State Department is nothing more than a shadow government.

    T-Rex knows the Trump agenda, but he’s just one man up against thousands who are dead set against Trump. Trillions of dollars are at stake here and the shadow government will not go down without a fight. Good article, Dan.

    • True, President Trump is “just one man up against thousands.” However, he can (and should) fire, cause to be fired or send elsewhere those thousands. I do not exclude Secretary Tillerson.

      For example, we still do not know, for sure, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Their great talents would be better used to answer that vexing question. Or something. Perhaps “how much wood could a woodchuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” The possibilities are almost infinite.

      • joopklepzeiker Says:

        Are you now saying that Trump is ill prepared because he did not know at forehand he had to battle thousands ?

        Playing by ear is not enough .

        • I doubt that he anticipated having to battle Tillerson and I expected that Tillerson would fire many if not most Obama hold-overs. Tillerson has been a disappointment on many fronts and should go.

          Perhaps, during the next congressional recess, President Trump can fire him and appoint a replacement, who can then remain in office until the end of the next congressional session.

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            That he must go is a sure thing .

            Why does Trump not have a little army of bull fighters ready to go into the arena ?

            At that level of politics you must anticipate EVERYTHING , a plan B/C and D

      • joopklepzeiker Says:

        Donald Trump on Firing Jeff Sessions: ‘We’ll See. Time Will Tell’


      • For what it’s worth, I said T-Rex is up against thousands in the largest non-military branch of the government.

        • joopklepzeiker Says:

          You still not get it , it is OVER and out !

          Why are you denying the reality , Trump is not in command , he is played masterfully , he had not the guts and the forces to clean the house in the first months .

          It is an old story , the game will be played over the left or right , that left right dogma is just for the dumb down believers in a democratic process .

          The forces are to big and running to long , the events has to run their course .

          Trump is just a hick up , a little speed bump .

          Welcome in the brave new world .

          • I was speaking to Dan, thank you.

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            AND ?

          • Don’t worry. I know you’re upset that Putin just got more sanctions slapped in his face. You’ll get over it. Meanwhile, please don’t take it out on others.

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            O well, the old and establish friendship with Europe is crumbling on this LS, be careful going further in this way.
            It could be ended in the USA against the whole world and that is something i do not wanna see for the nice USA citizens.
            I wanna see them happy with good education and producing goods the world need and not lining up for some food at a chuck wagon because they are fighting the world !
            I give a rats ass about Putin but i give dearly about you and your fellow USA citizens, the smart ones and even the exceptional stupid ones .

            PS: i,am the last to worry about anything , i,am fine, very fine , i have a first class ticket in the train of the coming event,s , i sit relax in front of a window and watch the events passing by , but you on the other hand are in grave danger and that worry,s me a bit .

            Yours caring JK .

          • Such a nice guy you are. I sleep better at night knowing you have us covered to the south. In the event of economic collapse and the coming apocalypse, I’ll be heading to your jungle compound for safety. Tell me, how many extra bunk beds do you have. I have a large family. Heck, I’ll even bring a big pot of seafood gumbo to share. When shall we plan on coming and how long do you recommend we stay?

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            sure i,am .

            I wanna have you to stay in your happy swamp , monkey but counting is not your thing .
            Please do not come over with your whole family, i do not like taking a risk that my nice quit environment will be enlightened by your brightness .
            You know it is a win win situation , you happy in your swamp and i,am happy in my jungle .
            That is why i try to advise to avoid the perversity the horror that you have to leave your swamp.

            PS; did your govement not bought safe places in Brazil for your family ?

          • joopklepzeiker Says:


            If you wanna invest into a safe heaven i can be at your service !
            Perhaps i trow some crocs in , just to give you a home feeling .

          • Gee, and I thought the Dutch were hospitable people. In the event the monkey’s get tired of having their butts counted, you are welcome to drop by and stay a while. I’ll even throw in a free trip to the monkey exhibit at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans so you’ll feel right at home.

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            We ARE very hospitable, you and your wife are always welcome but not your whole family as you requested .
            After the monkeys buts we do counting cow buts by the zillion we also do goat buts, but the type with 4 legs the 2 legged type we do not like and are not existing over here .
            Thanks for the invitation, but bin there done that .

            But as i have stated if you wanna have a safe heaven for the whole family i can be at your service , send me your request and needed specs and i will give you a fantastic opportunity to own you own family safe heaven .

          • That’s very nice of you Joop, but for now, our butts will remain in bayou country.

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            Understandable ,

            You gotta love this !
            Trump Announces Ban on Transgender People in the U.S. Military

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            If you like sanding an polyurethane varnishing , come over NOW !

          • Funny you should mention that. I’ve been refinishing some of our outdoor furniture. Lots of sanding, painting, staining going on here too. Also, pulling weeds and freshening up the flowerbeds.
            Getting ready to host my grandson’s annual baseball team swimming party next month. They’re a great bunch of kids. Love’em all.

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            Sound like fun , outside that work .
            We have a load of tropical hardwood furniture , cabinets lockers and so on , very nice wood but varnished with the cheap yellowing varnish , after 10 years it is getting to dark and we can hardly see the nice wood, so to keep the wife happy i,am sanding everything down till is see nice wood and than 4 layers Cristal clear egg glance polyurethane spray varnish .
            With a brush it is a crime but spraying is perfectly fine .

            If started to make my own outdoor furniture, noting factory made survive here, so i,am using treated wood ( kind of expensive here ) and than several applications of wood oil, i like line seed oil a lot , goes straight into the wood ,after drying ( chemical reaction with O2 ) witch can take 3 days it is hard and sand able even ready for varnish, what i,am not doing , once a year a bit of funiture oil , fast easy and cheap and it will survive for the rest of our lives .

          • joopklepzeiker Says:

            About the garden and the pool !
            You know we have 3 female dogs , all liberals !
            I feed them , I pay the medical bills and if they have a dump i clean up the mess and the ladies are very fond at a daily cleaned pool .
            And i,am the retired person !!

          • LOL. I bet they’re registered Democrats.

  2. joopklepzeiker Says:

    Evelyn Farkas, a former top Obama administration Defense Department official, has advocated for the intelligence community to consider compromising sources and methods when it comes to “saving American democracy.”


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