Iran deal in balance as Trump weighs in
Washington — President Donald Trump on Tuesday could make good on his longstanding threat to tear up the Iran nuclear accord — or he could heap fresh disdain on the landmark disarmament pact while charting a course that would keep key elements in place, at least for now.
On Monday, five days ahead of a closely watched, self-imposed deadline, the president teased his planned announcement with a tweet, telling the world to stay tuned for word at 2 p.m. Tuesday, catching even most of his senior national security staff by surprise.
The decision, potentially one of the most consequential of Trump’s presidency, will have repercussions in nearly every corner of the globe. It could ratchet up tensions in the already volatile Middle East, strain U.S. alliances with Europe and complicate dealings with Russia and China, which are signatories to the pact.
On the campaign trail, and in campaign-style rallies since taking office, Trump has again and again roared out his opposition to what he has called the worst deal ever — one that is, not coincidentally, considered one of his predecessor’s signature achievements.
His new national security adviser, John Bolton, is a staunch opponent of the Obama-era accord between Iran and six world powers, heightening speculation that Trump would deliver a coup de grace by immediately reimposing U.S. sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 accord. He has held up doing so in past opportunities, saying he was giving European allies a chance to toughen up the deal.
Those allies have pleaded with Trump to preserve the accord, or at least give them more time to fix it. They note that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency empowered to inspect Iranian facilities, has repeatedly found Tehran in compliance with the terms of the deal.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel coordinated back-to-back White House visits last month in which they urged Trump to stay in the deal. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May spoke with Trump by phone over the weekend and followed up by dispatching her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, for a last-minute visit to Washington.
In an appearance Monday on “Fox & Friends,” Trump’s favorite cable show, Johnson cast Trump in a flattering statesmanlike light, saying he was correct to criticize the Iran pact.
“The president is right to see flaws in (the accord), and he set a very reasonable challenge to the world,” Johnson said. “He said, ‘Look, Iran is behaving badly, has a tendency to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. We’ve got to stop that. We’ve got to push back on what Iran is doing in the region. We’ve got to be tougher.’ ”
Germany, France and Britain have all suggested they have no intention of leaving the deal. But it’s not clear how major European companies and other multinational corporations, including in banking and energy, could avoid running afoul of U.S. sanctions if Trump restores them.
Iran, for its part, telegraphed fresh defiance — but stopped far short of saying it would abandon the deal, or resume its now-blocked nuclear program, if Trump pulls out.
“We are not worried about America’s cruel decisions,” President Hassan Rouhani declared in a speech that was aired on Iranian state television Monday. “We are prepared for all scenarios, and no change will occur in our lives.”
Heading into Tuesday’s announcement, Trump kept up his criticism of the agreement, denouncing former Secretary of State John Kerry’s reported back-channel attempts to save the deal.
Kerry, who served as lead negotiator on the deal for the Obama administration, has in recent months held private strategy consultations with foreign officials aimed at bolstering the deal’s chances of surviving, the Boston Globe reported on Friday.
One of Kerry’s interlocutors was Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whom he met on the sidelines of a conference last year in Oslo, Norway. Zarif recently warned that if the accord was scrapped, Iran might restart its nuclear program.
Trump took angry exception to the report of Kerry’s contacts.
“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!”
The 2015 accord lifted crippling sanctions that had locked Iran out of international banking and the global oil trade. In return, Tehran limited its ability to enrich uranium, reconfigured a heavy-water reactor to block it from producing plutonium, reduced its uranium stockpile, and agreed to international inspections and monitoring.
Trump is widely expected to abandon the deal, but experts say he also could claim victory by imposing supplemental sanctions that leave the nuclear restrictions in place but clamp down harder on his other concerns.
Trump has several options, in addition to tearing the deal up and staying in. He could also choose to continue discussions to rework the deal. Or he could decline to recertify the deal without formally pulling out.
He faces a May 12 deadline on whether to renew waivers that eased sanctions on Iran’s central bank, which deals with Iran’s oil exports. Another set of sanctions, focused on more than 400 Iranian companies, individuals and sectors, is up for renewal on July 11.
Trump could reimpose only the central bank sanctions. That would give companies or countries 180 days to reduce their oil purchases from Iran, giving them more time to search for a solution. Hitting all 400 targets at the start would be far more drastic, and could create a crisis.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.