US President Donald Trump launches new Iran strategy, leaves nuclear deal hanging

October 13, 2017 10:20 pm

President Donald Trump refused to certify the 2015 nuclear agreement
President Donald Trump launched a tougher strategy to check Iran’s “fanatical regime” on Friday and warned that a landmark international nuclear deal could be terminated at any time. In a much-anticipated White House speech, Trump stopped short of withdrawing from the 2015 accord, but “decertified” his support for the agreement and left its fate in the hands of Congress.And, outlining the results of a review of efforts to counter Tehran’s “aggression” in a series of Middle East conflicts, Trump ordered tougher sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and on its ballistic missile program.
Trump said the agreement, which defenders say was only ever meant to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, had failed to address Iranian subversion in its region and its illegal missile program.
The president said he supports efforts in Congress to work on new measures to address these threats without immediately torpedoing the broader deal.
“However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said, in a televised address from the Diplomatic Room of the White House.
“It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me as president at any time,” he warned.
Simultaneously, the US Treasury said it had taken action against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards under a 2001 executive order to hit sources of terror funding and added four companies that allegedly support the group to its sanctions list.
Trump’s criticism of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the nuclear control accord reached between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and – had raised global concerns.
World governments feared any US move to sabotage the arrangement could dash Washington’s diplomatic credibility and relaunch Iran’s alleged quest for a nuclear weapon, in turn provoking a new Middle East arms race.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear ahead of the president’s speech that his decision does not necessarily mean an end to the accord.
– ‘The worst deal’ –
“The intent is that we will stay in the JCPOA, but the president is going to decertify,” Tillerson said.
“We’re saying, fine, they’re meeting the technical compliance,” he said, indicating that the broader agreement would remain intact for now, and that US lawmakers will have an opportunity to revisit the US sanctions regime.
Trump had repeatedly pledged to overturn one of his predecessor Barack Obama’s crowning achievements, deriding it as “the worst deal” and one agreed to out of “weakness.”
The agreement stalled Iran’s nuclear program and marginally thawed relations between Iran and what Tehran dubs the “Great Satan,” but opponents, and even some supporters, say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence across the Middle East.
But since coming to office, Trump has faced intense lobbying from international allies and much of his own national security team, who argue the JCPOA should remain in place.
Both the US government and UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
US concerns about the Guards could also weaken the deal. Trump stopped short of designating the powerful military faction a global terror organization, as some hawks demanded, but his announcement of targeted sanctions is still likely to trigger an angry Iranian response.
Apart from running swaths of Iran’s economy and Iran’s ballistic program, the corps is also accused of guiding bellicose proxies from Hezbollah in Lebanon, to the Huthi in Yemen to Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria.
“We have considered that there are particular risks and complexities to designating an entire army, so to speak, of a country,” Tillerson said.
Instead the US will squeeze those directly supporting the corps’ “terrorist activities, whether it’s weapons exports or it’s weapons components, or cyber activity, or it’s movement of weapons and fighters around.”
– Snap back –
Still, Trump’s tough-guy approach could yet risk undoing years of careful diplomacy and increasing Middle East tensions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon the landmark nuclear agreement.
Trump is set to withdraw his backing for the 2015 nuclear deal
“It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is respected by the nations of the world and global public opinion,” he added.
Congress must now decide whether to end the nuclear accord by “snapping back” sanctions, which Iran demanded be lifted in exchange for limiting uranium enrichment.
Trump will not ask Congress to do that, Tillerson said. “A re-imposition of the sanctions,” he said, “would, in effect, say we’re walking away from the deal.”
But lawmakers may yet decide to torpedo the agreement.
Proposals by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Bob Corker to introduce “trigger points” for new sanctions and extend sanctions beyond a pre-agreed deadline have spooked allies, who believe it could breach the accord.
But it remains unclear if their proposals can garner the 60 votes need to pass the Senate.
US President Donald Trump is turning to Congress to tighten the screws on Iran over its nuclear program, ballistic missile technology and support for terrorism
 President Donald Trump dumped the fate of the Iran nuclear deal on US lawmakers Friday, leaving open the question of whether they can turn the screw on Tehran without killing the accord. Unveiling an aggressive new strategy against what he called the “rogue regime” in Iran, Trump said he will not certify under US law that the 2015 pact remains in the US interests. He threatened that he could as president cancel the deal “at any time” but, rather than doing so, he left it up to Congress to decide whether to levy new US sanctions on Iran that might capsize the agreement.
Two influential Republican senators have drawn up a plan for sanctions that European diplomats fear would amount to a repudiation of the 2015 international accord, but it is unclear whether they could muster a majority.
There is broader support for fresh pressure on Iran over its continued missile development and subversive activities in the region – factors that Trump says violate the “spirit” of the agreement.
But can Democrats and Republicans agree on measures that would stop short of destroying an accord that was the product of many years of diplomacy and is fiercely defended by US allies in Europe and fellow members of the UN Security Council.
“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons,” Trump said.
With Congress the next battlefield over Iran policy, diplomats say they have observed US lawmaker reluctance at being seen as responsible for walking away from the pact.
“Many senators are looking for a middle way,” said one Western diplomat. “They don’t want to kill the agreement.”
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
It was signed by Iran, Germany, and UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the .
Trump could have scuppered the deal himself, by declining to waive the sanctions when they came up for review in September.
Instead, his decertification move set the clock ticking on a 60-day period during which Congress can choose to re-impose the sanctions.
The United States does not immediately plan to drop out of the Iran nuclear deal, but Congress may decide to impose new sanctions on Tehran missile program that could weaken it
Tehran has warned such action would mean Washington had broken its end of the bargain, and thus likely signal the end of their own compliance.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration is not urging Congress to impose new sanctions.
“Obviously, if they do that, that does then put the JCPOA agreement in question,” Tillerson said.
Congress could also “do nothing,” and allow the deal to stand as is, he added.
Republicans, who are in the majority in Congress, have for years denounced the pact, which was brokered during Barack Obama’s administration.
When the deal was struck, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) that gave US lawmakers a say in managing the accord.
This includes a requirement for the president to certify Iran’s compliance with the accord every 90 days, and an option to slap sanctions back on Iran with a simple majority vote.
– Sunset clause –
Lawmakers are hesitant about re-imposing the sanctions, including restrictions on Iran’s vast oil sector, that had severely hobbled the country’s economy, but senior Republicans appeared keen to tighten the screws in other ways.
Leading US lawmaker Senator Bob Corker has drawn up plans for legislation that could see American sanctions against Iran resume when the Iran nuclear deal begins to expire
After Trump’s announcement, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce said that “in the coming weeks” the House will vote to boost non-nuclear sanctions.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said it “might feel good for a second” to shred the deal, but he stressed the need to keep allies on the same page.
One option unveiled Friday by Corker and Iran hawk Senator Tom Cotton is an amendment to INARA that would toughen Iran’s compliance requirements and address “deficiencies” in the deal.
The proposal would target the pact’s “sunset” provisions that would gradually allow Iran to advance its uranium enrichment program from 2025.
According to a summary, the US would reimpose its pre-deal sanctions on Iran if it did restart enrichment, even if this was allowed under the JCPOA.
“I think that we have provided a route to overcome deficiencies and to keep the administration in the deal, and actually make it the kind of deal it should have been in the first place,” Corker said.
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal
Diplomats have expressed worry that tweaking INARA could jeopardize the agreement, and warned that the US unilaterally abolishing the “sunset” would make it harder to negotiate with allies that back the existing agreement.
It remained to be seen whether there was enough support in Congress for the amendment, which would require a bipartisan majority in the Senate.
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