Trump expected to decertify Iran nuclear deal

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Citing Iran’s support of terror, U.S. President Donald Trump hints he will decline to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 agreement, leaving Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions • “You’ll be hearing about Iran shortly,” he tells reporters.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the landmark international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a senior administration official said on Thursday, in a step that potentially could cause the 2015 accord to unravel.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an American official said Trump was also expected to roll out a broader, more confrontational U.S. strategy on Iran.

The Trump administration has frequently criticized Iran’s conduct in the Middle East.

Trump, who has called the pact an “embarrassment” and “the worst deal ever negotiated,” has been weighing whether it serves U.S. security interests as he faces an Oct. 15 deadline for certifying that Iran is complying with its terms.

“We must not allow Iran … to obtain nuclear weapons,” Trump said during a meeting with military leaders at the White House on Thursday, adding that “the Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East. That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions. They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement.”

Asked about his decision on whether to certify the landmark deal, Trump said: “You’ll be hearing about Iran very shortly.”

Supporters say the deal’s collapse could trigger a regional arms race and worsen Middle East tensions, while opponents say it went too far in easing sanctions without requiring that Iran end its nuclear program permanently.

Iranian authorities have repeatedly said Tehran would not be the first to violate the accord, under which Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear program in return for lifting most international sanctions that had crippled its economy.

If Trump declines to certify Iran’s compliance, U.S. congressional leaders would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, suspended under the agreement.

Whether Congress would be willing to reimpose sanctions is far from clear. While Republicans, and some Democrats, opposed the deal when it was approved in 2015, there is little obvious appetite in Congress for dealing with the Iran issue now.

The prospect that Washington could renege on the pact, struck between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union, has worried some of the U.S. allies that helped negotiate it.

“We, the Europeans, have hammered this: The agreement is working,” said a European diplomat who asked to remain anonymous. “We as Europeans, have repeated … it’s impossible to reopen the agreement. Period. It’s impossible.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said last month there was no alternative to the nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

A senior Iranian diplomat told Reuters on Thursday the end result of Trump’s expected move would be to isolate the United States since the Europeans would continue to support it.

“Many foreign investors told us that they will not be scared away from Iran’s market if Trump de-certifies the deal,” the diplomat said.

Trump has long criticized the pact, a signature foreign policy achievement of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

The administration was considering Oct. 12 for Trump to give a speech on Iran but no final decision had been made, an official said previously.

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, said that unless provisions in the accord removing restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program over time are eliminated, it should be scrapped.

“Fix it, or nix it,” Netanyahu said in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders on Sept. 19.

Many of Trump’s fellow Republicans who control Congress also have been critical of the deal.

Trump blasted the deal in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, also on Sept. 19. “We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program,” Trump said, adding that Iran’s government “masks a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy.”

Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran’s forces, its Shiite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria and its support for militant groups.

Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that Iran was “fundamentally” in compliance with the agreement. He also said the United States should consider staying in the deal unless it were proven that Tehran was not abiding by it or that it was not in the U.S. national interest to do so.

When Mattis was asked by a senator whether he thought staying in the deal was in the U.S. national security interest, he replied: “Yes, senator, I do.”

Last week, Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran may abandon the deal if Washington decides to withdraw.

A State Department official said the Trump administration was “fully committed to addressing the totality of Iranian threats and malign activities and seeks to bring about a change in the Iranian regime’s behavior.”

The official said that behavior includes ballistic missiles proliferation, “support for terrorism,” support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, “unrelenting hostility to Israel,” “consistently threatening freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf,” cyberattacks against the United States and its allies, human rights abuses and “arbitrary detentions of U.S. citizens.”

“The JCPOA was expected to contribute to regional and international peace and security, and Iran’s regime is doing everything in its power to undermine peace and security,” the State Department official added.

The move would be another step by Trump to undo key parts of Obama’s legacy. If Trump moves to decertify the accord, it would mark another example of walking away from international commitments as he pursues his nationalist “America First” agenda. He previously announced plans to abandon the Paris climate accord and the ambitious 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, two key Obama achievements.

Meanwhile Thursday, Trump delivered a foreboding message when he told that this might be the “calm before the storm,” as he posed for photos with his senior military staff.

White House reporters were summoned suddenly Thursday evening and told the president had decided he wanted the press to document a dinner he was holding with the military leaders and their wives.

Reporters were led hastily to the grand State Dining Room, where they walked into a scene of the president, his highest-ranking military aides and their spouses posing for a group photo.

Then, Trump gestured to the reporters in the room. “You guys know what this represents?” Trump asked. “Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Could be the calm, the calm before the storm.”

“What storm Mr. President?” one reporter shouted.

“You’ll find out,” the president said.

He also praised those assembled for the photo, saying: “We have the world’s great military people in this room, I will tell you that.”

Earlier in the evening, the president had lauded the group, including his defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and said they would be discussing the most pressing military issues facing the country, including North Korea and Iran.

Trump said “tremendous progress” had been made with respect to the Islamic State group, adding, “I guess the media’s going to be finding out about that over the next short period of time.”

He also offered another stark warning to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. “We cannot allow this dictatorship to threaten our nation or allies with unimaginable loss of life,” he said, vowing to “do what we must do to prevent that from happening and it will be done, if necessary. Believe me.”

He also said that, moving forward, he expects those in the room to provide him with “a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace.”

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