After US President Trump announces his decision on Iran deal, Congress, instead of demanding new sanctions, endorses negotiations to improve the deal, perhaps with additional sanctions authority to give the president more leverage. Trump appoints a tough, high-powered special envoy to pursue negotiations; someone like Dennis Ross, who worked on the Middle East for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Once talks are under way, President Trump can announce that he’s accomplished the moral equivalent of renegotiation, and declare at least partial victory.
That would put the US confrontation with Iran in a category with other Trump foreign policy positions that turned out to contain more bluster than action: his threats to walk away from US obligations to Nato, for example, and his promise to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (which, in Trump’s mind, is another “worst deal ever negotiated”).
There are plenty of ways that benign outcome could be derailed.
Republicans in Congress could bow to pressure from hardliners and impose new nuclear sanctions (although that looks unlikely; even Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a noted hawk, has agreed to hold off).
Other countries could balk. Trump is deeply unpopular in Europe.
Even Russia’s Vladimir Putin may not be in the mood to help an American president who has turned out to be an unreliable friend.
Any negotiations to extend the deal will be multinational, and they’ll require compromise — two words that rarely apply to Trump’s bluster-based diplomacy.
The president will grow impatient. He’ll still have to report to Congress every 90 days. He’ll still have the authority to reimpose sanctions any time he wants. (He doesn’t need Congress’ approval for that, even now.)
But the administration’s internal debates have brought Trump to an unexpected and unwanted conclusion, that ending the nuclear agreement is not in the national interest.
He won’t admit it. He’ll continue to denounce the deal. But he’s not walking away from it — and that gives nuclear diplomacy with Iran another chance to survive.