Trump strikes blow at Iran nuclear deal, irks allies
In major policy shift, U.S. president refuses to certify deal, threatens to scrap it
U.S. President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran was complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it.
He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal was to ensure Tehran never obtained a nuclear weapon. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said.
He singled out Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for sanctions and delivered a blistering critique of Tehran, which he accused of destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
In response, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Friday on live television that Tehran was committed to the deal and accused Trump of making baseless accusations.
“Tonight’s remarks [by Trump] showed that the deal is much stronger than what he thought during the U.S. presidential campaigns,” Rouhani said.
“The U.S. is lonelier than ever about the deal,” he added.
Trump’s hard-line remarks drew praise from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, but was criticized by European allies and Russia.
Trump’s stance put him at odds with key U.S. allies, including Britain, France and Germany who, along with Russia and China, were the major powers that negotiated the deal with Iran alongside the European Union.
The leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement warning the United States against taking decisions that could harm the nuclear deal such as reimposing sanctions.
The three leaders also said they shared U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional destabilizing activities and were ready to work with Washington to address those concerns.
In contrast, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said there was no place in international diplomacy for threatening and aggressive rhetoric, and said such methods were doomed to fail in a statement issued after Trump’s speech.
The ministry said Trump’s decision to de-certify the deal would not have a direct impact on implementation of the agreement but that it ran counter to its spirit.
There was no immediate reaction from China, though Alexei Pushkov,
a pro-Kremlin lawmaker in the upper house of the Russian Parliament, said neither Moscow nor Beijing backed Trump’s stance.
“Russia of course does not support the U.S. position, nor does China. So Trump will be left in proud isolation in an attempt to improve his image among his own supporters,” Pushkov told Russia’s state-run Rossiya-24 TV station.
European allies have warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and say that putting it in limbo as Trump has done undermines U.S. credibility abroad, especially as international inspectors say Iran is in compliance with the accord.
The chief of the U.N. atomic watchdog reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime.”
“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said, referring to the deal by its formal name.
Saudi Arabia said lifting sanctions had allowed Tehran to develop its ballistic missile program, step up its support for groups including Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen, and attack global shipping lanes.
The Riyadh government said in a statement it had supported the nuclear agreement, “but Iran took advantage of the economic gain from raising sanctions and used it to continue destabilizing the region”.
U.S. Democrats expressed skepticism at Trump’s decision. Senator Ben Cardin said: “At a moment when the United States and its allies face a nuclear crisis with North Korea, the president has manufactured a new crisis that will isolate us from our allies and partners.”
While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, he gave the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.
If Congress reimposes the sanctions, the United States would in effect be in violation of the terms of the nuclear deal and it would likely fall apart. If lawmakers do nothing, the deal remains in place.
The president, who took office in January, had reluctantly certified the agreement twice before but has repeatedly blasted it as “the worst deal ever.” It was negotiated under his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”
“We’ll see what happens over the next short period of time and I can do that instantaneously,” he told reporters when asked why he did not choose to scrap the deal now.
The Trump administration designated the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under an executive order targeting terrorists. The administration stopped short of labeling the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a list maintained by the State Department.
It had already previously been sanctioned by the U.S. under other authorities, and the immediate impact of Friday’s measure is likely to be symbolic.
The U.S. military said Friday it was identifying new areas where it could work with allies to put pressure on Iran in support of Trump’s new strategy and was reviewing the positioning of U.S. forces.
But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no changes in force posture had been made yet, and Iran had not responded to Trump’s announcement with any provocative acts so far.