Trump resists pressure to soften stance on Iran nuclear deal

REUTERS
WASHINGTON
Published

President Donald Trump finds himself under immense pressure as he considers de-certifying the international nuclear deal with Iran, a move that would ignore warnings from inside and outside his administration that to do so would risk undermining U.S. credibility.

Trump is expected to unveil a broad strategy on confronting Iran this week, likely today. There was always the chance he could still have a last-minute change of heart and certify Iran's compliance with the 2015 accord, which he has called an "embarrassment" and the "worst deal ever negotiated."

Senior U.S. officials, European allies and prominent U.S. lawmakers have told Trump that refusing to certify the deal would leave the U.S. isolated, concede the diplomatic high ground to Tehran, and ultimately risk the unraveling of the agreement.

Signed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran, the deal relieved sanctions on Tehran in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons program.

After Trump made clear three months ago he would not certify Iran's compliance, his advisers moved to give him options to consider, a senior administration official said.

"They came up with a plan that protects the things they are concerned about but doesn't recertify, which the president made clear he was not going to do. That ship has sailed," according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said Trump has been telling foreign leaders and U.S. lawmakers that his refusal to certify the Iran deal would not blow it up. "He's not walking away from it. The chances of him walking away from it go down if they work with him on making it better," the official said.

White House officials said Trump is expected to announce a broad, more confrontational policy toward Iran directed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and financial and military support for Hezbollah and other extremist groups.

Trump has said he believes the nuclear deal is too generous toward Iran and would not stop it from trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

He has criticized the agreement's "sunset clauses," under which some restrictions on Iran's nuclear program would expire over time. He also wants to toughen language on ballistic missiles and inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is complying with the agreement.

European officials have categorically ruled out renegotiating the deal, but have said they share Trump's concerns over Iran's destabilizing influence in the Middle East. Several diplomats have said Europe would be ready to discuss sanctioning Iran's ballistic missile tests and forming a strategy to curb Iran's influence in the region.

Officials have also said there could be room to open a new negotiation for what happens once some of the core terms of the deal begin expiring in 2025, although there is no reason to believe Iran would be ready to enter in such a negotiation. Iran has said it may exit the deal if the U.S. withdraws. De-certifying would not withdraw the United States from the deal but it would give the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose the sanctions on Tehran that were suspended under the agreement.

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