Trump Holds Off Scuttling Iran Deal

Tribune Washington Bureau
Published: 1/13/2018 12:02:54 AM
Modified: 1/13/2018 12:03:07 AM

Washington — President Donald Trump agreed on Friday to extend sanctions waivers to keep the historic nuclear disarmament deal with Iran intact, but vowed to quickly withdraw from what he called “the disastrously flawed” accord unless it is significantly revised.

“No one should doubt my word,” Trump said in a strongly worded two-page statement.

Trump said he had only agreed to extend the waivers only in order to secure the support of America’s European allies to fix the agreement. “This is a last chance,” he warned, declaring he would not waive sanctions again to stay in the deal.

He called on Congress to pass a bill that would demand Iran allow unrestricted inspections at all sites, to “ensure that Iran never even comes close” to possessing a nuclear weapon, and to end so-called sunset provisions in the agreement that phase out over time.

“If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume,” he said.

United Nations inspectors currently monitor Iran’s former nuclear infrastructure, but critics of the accord have said they should gain unfettered access to Iran’s military bases and other facilities, a demand Tehran has refused.

The sunset provisions were written into the 2015 agreement and a U.S. law would not change it. And proponents of the accord argue that it already blocks Iran’s ability to build or acquire a bomb, whatever Congress says.

The Trump administration also slapped unrelated economic sanctions on 14 Iranian individuals and entities, including a notorious prison and members of the Islamic Republic’s judiciary who have sentenced dissidents to death.

Senior administration officials said Trump intends to negotiate with European allies a menu of “triggers” that would re-impose multilateral sanctions if Iran is found in violation of the landmark nuclear accord, which was signed in 2015.

The administration wants those triggers to include Iran’s ballistic missile program, which was not part of the nuclear deal, and wants to remove sunset clauses that allow some nuclear restrictions to ease or phase out over time.

“The idea is they (should) never expire,” a senior administration official, speaking anonymously, said of the restrictions in briefing reporters ahead of the announcement. “Iran should be denied all paths to a nuclear weapon ... forever.”

The Obama administration argued that the accord permanently blocked Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon. Critics contend the accord gave Tehran too much leeway after the first decade.

Other new blacklisted entities include Iran’s cyberspace agency, which administration officials said restricts its citizens’ access to the internet and especially to international news and social media sites.

Also added to the U.S. blacklist were Iranian defense-industry firms that repair and maintain helicopters and aircraft; a Malaysia-based telecommunications company that allegedly supports Iranian naval missile production, and a Chinese businessman accused of illicitly supplying financing and equipment to Iran’s electronics industry.

The head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadegh Larijani, who was put on the U.S. blacklist, is the brother of the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, the officials said.

“These designations politically will go to the top of the regime,” another administration official speaking anonymously said, “and send the message that the United States will not tolerate the violation of the rights of (Iranian) citizens.”

The administration long has argued that all of Iran’s “malicious behavior,” including its human rights abuses and support for militant groups across the Middle East, should be included in an international regimen of punishment.

The nuclear deal was negotiated with Iran by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. All sides agreed that it would only cover Iran’s apparent efforts to develop nuclear weapons, which was in violation of U.N. resolutions, and not other issues.

Under U.S. law, the White House must periodically agree to waive the nuclear-related sanctions that were eased as part the 2015 agreement. Failing to do so could put the United States in violation of the accord.

Trump has sharply criticized the agreement and vowed to rip it up, but his national security advisers have urged him to wait while they work with Congress and U.S. allies in an effort to strengthen its provisions.

As he did in October, Trump again declined to certify to Congress that the nuclear agreement is in the nation’s best interest. Noncertification to Congress does not affect the actual accord, however.

The consequences would have been far-reaching if Trump had decided not to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions.

It would defy other members of the Security Council as well as most U.S. allies. It also could hand Iran a pretext to start limiting U.N. inspections or restart its nuclear program.

Sticking with the deal but imposing new nonnuclear sanctions while seeking to change the agreement was a compromise position.

Most U.S. trade with and investment in Iran already is banned under separate U.S. sanctions for Tehran’s human rights abuses, ballistic missile program and support for terrorism, but the administration and its supporters said more are needed.

European allies had strongly urged the White House to stick with the nuclear deal, saying a decision to abandon it would strain the transatlantic partnership.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a telephone call with Trump on Thursday, emphasized France’s “determination to see the strict application of the deal and the importance of all the signatories to respect it,” Macron’s office said.

“The smooth implementation of the agreement should be accompanied by a stepped-up dialogue with Iran on its ballistic missile program and its regional policy in order to guarantee greater stability in the Middle East,” the French statement added.

Trump told Macron that Iran had to stop its “destabilizing activity” in the region, the White House said.


The accord required Tehran to dismantle its main nuclear reactor, drastically cut back on uranium enrichment, get rid of thousands of centrifuges and export most of its heavy water. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, has repeatedly verified that Iran is in compliance.

In exchange, most international sanctions on Iran were eased, allowing the country to trade on the global oil market and rejoin international banking systems. Widespread protests in Iran over the last few weeks have focused on the country’s faltering economy, however, as well as high unemployment and government corruption.

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