10202018What's Hot:

Trump extends Iran nuclear deal again

President Donald Trump is designating 14 Iranian individuals and entities with new sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal, including the head of Iran’s judiciary. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

President Donald Trump is once again extending the Iran nuclear deal, but Trump will “terminate” the agreement unless Congress and European allies agree to strengthen it, Trump said in a statement Friday.

“This is a last chance,” Trump said. “[E]ither fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”

Story Continued Below

The decision is a temporary victory for Trump’s national security team, which has spent months trying to persuade a president who despises the nuclear deal that abandoning it would be a self-inflicted foreign policy calamity.

The statement implicitly sets a mid-May deadline for the deal’s fate. That is when Trump must again choose, as he did Friday, whether to waive economic sanctions on Tehran which come up for renewal every 120 days.

The Obama administration suspended those sanctions were suspended in July of 2015 as part of the agreement negotiated with Iran and five other nations that imposed limits on Iran’s nuclear program, which experts said had neared nuclear weapons capability.

Facing a separate deadline that appears every 90 days, Trump declined — as he first did in mid-October — to certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, despite the conclusion of international inspectors to the contrary.

Though relieved by its temporary extension, the nuclear deal’s supporters remain nervous about its prospects. Trump’s decision “keeps the deal on life-support for now but puts it on a path toward collapse,” said Philip Gordon, a former Obama national security official who advised Obama on the negotiations.

Trump is also targeting 14 Iranian individuals and entities with new sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal. They include an elite Iranian military cyber unit and the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, whose brother is the speaker of Iran’s parliament. Larijani was named in response to Iran’s harsh repression of recent nationwide protests, and show that the sanctions “go to the top of the regime” and the the U.S. “is not going to tolerate the continued violation of the rights of their citizens,” as one official put it.

Some hawkish administration officials and advisers had hoped that the popular protests in Iran, which erupted last month but have largely quieted after a regime crackdown, might prompt Trump to pull the plug on the nuclear agreement. But that was not the counsel of his top national security officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

While they are not fans of the nuclear agreement — joined by France, Germany, Great Britain, China and Russia — those officials believe the costs of a unilateral withdrawal by the U.S. that is opposed by its allies is too high and outweighs what many experts consider the unrealistic prospects of negotiating a stricter deal.

The spotlight now turns to Congress, which Trump insists must pass legislation imposing new restrictions on Iran, as well as to the European parties to the deal, whose support Trump is demanding.

“No one should doubt my word,” Trump said in his statement. “I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people. If other nations fail to act during this time, I will terminate our deal with Iran.”

Trump’s statement set out specific criteria for Congress, including a provision requiring “immediate” access to Iranian facilities by international inspectors; and an explicit declaration that the U.S. sees Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program and its nuclear program as “inseparable.”

Trump also insisted upon a undefined guarantee “that Iran never even comes close to possessing a nuclear weapon.” But a senior administration official told reporters that means that Iran “remains above a one-year breakout timeline,” which is what the deal currently mandates.

Trump also said that any new Congressional provisions must have no expiration date. Most key provisions of the nuclear deal sunset in the next decade, which critics say will allow Iran to quickly resume its progress toward a nuclear weapon.

McMaster has been negotiating potential new legislation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), but with nothing to show in public so far. European leaders have also been generally dismissive about imposing new nuclear-relation demands on Iran, saying the agreement cannot be renegotiated. Tehran insists that any efforts to impose new conditions on its nuclear programs amount to an abrogation of the deal and has threatened to resume its nuclear program at peak capacity in response.

Cardin said on Friday that he and Corker have underscored to the administration “that we want to be helpful“ but added that Trump’s point-blank series of demands may have made their job harder.

The provisions that Trump insisted on “would require discussions with our European allies and with Congress,” Cardin told POLITICO. “It would be more helpful if he laid it out in a framework rather than the manner in which he has in his statement.”

Corker and Cardin have both signaled openness to attaching any Iran measure they can agree on to a must-pass legislative vehicle, a strategy that would avoid the political minefields of a stand-alone debate on the nuclear pact. Congress is likely to consider a new spending package as soon as next month and may also take up legislation raise the debt limit in March.

President Donald Trump is pictured. | Getty Images

But the senators’ talks remain in early stages, and any bill they produce will likely face resistance from Democrats who don’t believe the deal should be tampered with as well as Republicans who want even tougher action.

Gordon expressed skepticism that a legislative fix or transatlantic offering can salvage the deal.

“Europeans and Congressional Democrats may look for ways to give Trump something to keep him from implementing his threat to kill the deal in four months, but cosmetic changes may not be enough,” Gordon said. “And even if they do go along with unilateral changes in the administration’s stance, it’s hard to see how Iran fails to respond with unilateral steps of its own.

James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush White House now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, called such assessments too dire. Jeffrey said that Trump’s demands can be met without violating the nuclear deal.

“Trump is leaving the door open to staying in the agreement if France, Germany and the UK work with Washington,” Jeffrey said.

In a statement, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (D-NY), was skeptical about prospects for a legislative fix.

“[W]e need to put to rest the canard that Congress can somehow unilaterally change the deal,” Engel said. “Any legislation that affects America’s adherence to the deal would make us the country walking away from our commitments. Like it or not, we need to uphold our end of the bargain so that we can hold Iran to its obligations and crack down on the regime’s other destabilizing activities.”

Diplomacy Works — a group of former Obama national security officials including former Secretary of State John Kerry and his former chief Iran negotiator, Wendy Sherman — denounced Trump’s decision in a statement Friday.

“Today we learned that the President’s plan includes bullying our allies into fundamentally altering the terms of a deal that they know is working for our mutual security and have publicly stated they have no interest in amending,” they said, warning that “a U.S. move to violate or withdraw from the nuclear deal undermines the transatlantic relationship and our alliances of first resort, which are vital across a broad range of policies — from bedrock economic issues to confronting terrorism.”

Elana Schor contributed reporting

This article tagged under:

Missing out on the latest scoops? Sign up for POLITICO Playbook and get the latest news, every morning — in your inbox.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic