US breaks with allies, goes it alone on Iran
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump last night was set to unveil a more aggressive strategy to check Iran’s growing might, withdrawing presidential backing for a landmark nuclear deal and targeting the country’s missile program and militia proxies.
During a White House speech, Mr Trump was expected to declare a 2015 deal, which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for massive sanctions relief, was no longer in the US national interest.
Officials say he will not kill the deal outright, or designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation — a move that would almost certainly bring retaliatory action.
Instead he will leave congress to decide whether it wants to kick away one of the accord’s foundational pillars by “snapping back” sanctions against Iran.
Many legislators are waiting to see how Mr Trump presents the choice, with no clear consensus even among Republicans on whether to torpedo the deal.
Leading Republican senator Marco Rubio described the accord as “fatally flawed” and said he was open to legislation that would “substantially improve America’s ability to counter Iran’s nuclear, terrorism, militancy and regional threats”.
Although Mr Trump’s decision is largely rhetorical — designed to meet a key election campaign pledge — it risks unpicking years of careful diplomacy and increasing Middle East tensions.
The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — at talks co-ordinated by the EU.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent much of the week on the phone, talking through a decision that is deeply unpopular with allies. UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bar- gain, curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
“This is the worst deal. We got nothing,” Mr Trump thundered to Fox News on Wednesday. “We did it out of weakness when actually, we have great strength.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his US counterpart, saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon a landmark nuclear agreement.
“It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is re- spected by the nations of the world and global public opinion,” he said.
Mr Trump, whose address to this year’s UN General Assembly was a hymn to national sovereignty, has been railing against the Iran deal since before he was elected. In office, he has chafed at being required under US law to recertify Iran’s compliance with the accord every 90 days, declaring that Tehran has broken it “in spirit”. Now, as he prepares to roll out the broader US strategy to combat Iran’s expanding power in the Middle East, he feels the time has come to turn his back on the deal.
Right up until the last minute, America’s closest allies have urged Mr Trump to think again.
After his nationalist UN speech, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that the deal “doesn’t belong to one country ... it belongs to the international community”.
US allies have not been convinced by the argument that the deal fell short because it left Iran free to develop ballistic missiles and sponsor proxy militias.
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called the White House to impress upon it her government’s “strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners”.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Mr Tillerson “that the nuclear deal was an historic achievement”. “It was the culmination of 13 years of painstaking diplomacy and has increased security, both in the region and in the UK,” he said.
But the US administration barely acknowledged the calls, and European diplomats in Washington privately complain their message is not getting through. One Western diplomat said that once Mr Trump “de-certifies” the deal their efforts will move to congress, where they will urge US politicians not to reimpose sanctions.