Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Iran nuclear deal that Trump was averse to holds, for now

Review of sanctions to determine vitality

- By Tracy Wilkinson

WASHINGTON — A skeptical Trump administra­tion has confirmed that Iran continues to comply with the 2015 nuclear disarmamen­t deal, but says the White House is conducting an internal review of the landmark arms control accord that President Donald Trump once called “the worst deal ever.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a letter to Congress that the National Security Council will lead an interagenc­y review of whether easing economic sanctions against Iran as part of the accord “is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”

“Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror through many platforms and methods,” Mr. Tillerson wrote.

The Treasury Department still maintains Obamaera sanctions aimed at Tehran’s support for terrorist groups and its ballistic missile program, and those conceivabl­y could be tweaked. But any moves to impose a major new regime of penalties could undermine the accord and spur a new nuclear crisis in the Middle East.

The review also could recommend more subtle ways to apply pressure to Tehran, which actively supports militant groups such as Lebanon-based Hezbollah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as well as Houthi fighters in Yemen and President Bashar Assad’s military in Syria, all of which the U.S. opposes.

It comes as the White House has scrambled to balance the threat of direct military action and the pursuit of diplomatic options, especially with China, to slow or block North Korea from expanding its nuclear arsenal and developing an interconti­nental ballistic missile that could deliver a warhead to U.S. shores.

For now, the administra­tion took steps to shore up its alliance with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival in the region. Iran is a Shiite Muslim theocracy whereas the Saudi kingdom is Sunni dominated.

Relations with Riyadh had deteriorat­ed under the Obama administra­tion, which criticized Saudi airstrikes on civilian targets in neighborin­g Yemen in that country’s civil war.

On a visit to Riyadh on Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Saudi officials that it was important to “reinforce Saudi Arabia’s resistance to Iran’s mischief.”

Speaking later to reporters, Mr. Mattis added, “Everywhere you look [that] there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran.” He said the Trump administra­tion would help countries “trying to checkmate” Iran.

Tensions rose sharply in northeast Asia last week when the Trump administra­tion and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government traded bellicose threats about a possible clash over an expected North Korean nuclear test.

In the end, Pyongyang test-fired a midrange ballistic missile that fell into the sea seconds after launch, defusing the crisis for now. And White House warnings that an aircraft carrier strike force was rushing north proved false; the armada was 3,500 miles away last weekend although the Pentagon insisted Wednesday that the Carl Vinson and three other warships are now en route to the Sea of Japan.

As a candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “rip up” the nuclear deal with Iran as soon as he took office, one of several signature campaign promises on foreign policy that he has ignored.

Several members of Mr. Trump’s incoming Cabinet said during their Senate confirmati­on hearings that they had decided the accord had effectivel­y constraine­d Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear bomb, and Mr. Trump has not moved to abrogate the accord.

Mr. Trump similarly has not moved to “cancel” the Paris climate accord of 2015, despite his vow on the campaign trail, nor has he abandoned the “one China” policy that has guided U.S. relations with Beijing for 40 years or reversed the Obama administra­tion’s opening to Cuba, although a high-level review of Cuba policy is underway.

Congress has required the State Department to notify it every 90 days whether Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal, which required Tehran to dismantle or disable its nuclear infrastruc­ture, including its ability to produce bomb-grade fuel.

This was the first notificati­on under the Trump administra­tion.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, asked about the Iran certificat­ion Wednesday, said Mr. Trump would await the review before deciding on the next step.

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