Despite his hatred of the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump has left the accord intact for now – but has given European allies 120 days to agree to a new deal or the US will pull out.
Mr Trump is waiving nuclear sanctions against Iran for the last time, administration officials said – comments that were quickly followed by a stark warning from the President: “Either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”
The action is the third time Mr Trump has given a reprieve to the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration, even though he has called it “the worst deal ever”.
Mr Trump has also approved sanctions against the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, who the administration holds culpable for the violent crackdown on recent anti-government protests.
Mr Larijani is among 14 individuals and entities that were designated on Friday to be sanctioned by the administration for human rights abuses, censorship in Iran and for providing support to Iranian weapons proliferators.
“The United States will not stand by while the Iranian regime continues to engage in human rights abuses and injustice,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “We are targeting the Iranian regime, including the head of Iran’s judiciary, for its appalling mistreatment of its citizens, including those imprisoned solely for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and for censoring its own people as they stand up in protest against their government. We are also targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program and destabilising activities, which it continues to prioritise over the economic well-being of the Iranian people.”
Mr Trump said in a statement he is open to working with Congress on bipartisan legislation regarding Iran. “But any bill I sign must include four critical components,” he said. “First, it must demand that Iran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors. Second, it must ensure that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.”
He continued: “Third, unlike the nuclear deal, these provisions must have no expiration date. My policy is to deny Iran all paths to a nuclear weapon – not just for ten years, but forever. If Iran does not comply with any of these provisions, American nuclear sanctions would automatically resume. Fourth, the legislation must explicitly state in United States law – for the first time – that long-range missile and nuclear weapons programmes are inseparable, and that Iran’s development and testing of missiles should be subject to severe sanctions.”
Under the 2015 agreement with six nations, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear programme for at least 10 years in exchange for the loosening of economic sanctions that had crippled its economy. The signatories of the accord were the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the EU.
After the President’s announcement on Friday, Obama officials who helped negotiate the 2015 agreement reiterated that the accord ensures Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon. It is also critical that the US remains part of the deal, they said.
Wendy Sherman, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs during the Obama administration, said on a press call that it would hurt the US’s credibility if Mr Trump does not maintain the agreement.
A senior Trump administration official said Friday’s decision represents the next step in the strategy that Mr Trump announced last October, when the President said he had chosen not to certify that Tehran was complying with the deal. However, at the time, Mr Trump also stopped short of scrapping the accord altogether, saying he wanted his administration to work with Congress and other nations to address the “deal’s many serious flaws”.
Even though Mr Trump has now imposed a 120-day deadline on his European partners, it does not appear like they have the appetite to negotiate a follow-on agreement regarding Iran.
On Thursday, European foreign ministers met in Brussels with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, seemingly to press Tehran about its destabilising activities in the Middle East.
“I don’t think anybody has so far produced a better alternative,” said the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson. “The Iran nuclear deal makes the world safer. European partners were unanimous today in our determination to preserve the deal and tackle Iran’s disruptive behaviour.”
The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, said, “The deal is working – it is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check and under close surveillance.”
During a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron also urged Mr Trump not to scrap the deal. Mr Macron “reaffirmed France’s determination to see the agreement strictly enforced and the importance for all of its signatories to abide by it,” his office said in a statement.