US breaks with al­lies, goes it alone on Iran

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - AFP

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.

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