The Trump administration notified Congress on Tuesday that Iran was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and that it has extended the sanctions relief given to the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs on its atomic program.
However, in a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan sent late Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration has undertaken a full review of the agreement to evaluate whether continued sanctions relief is in the national interest. Tillerson noted that Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism and that President Donald Trump had ordered the review with that in mind.
“Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods. President Donald J. Trump has directed a National Security Council-led interagency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” read the letter by Tillerson.
The certification of Iran’s compliance, which must be sent to Congress every 90 days, is the first issued by the Trump administration.
Trump has been an outspoken critic of the controversial agreement, calling it one of the “the worst deals I’ve ever seen negotiated,” and saying that Iran “lost respect [for the US] because they didn’t think anyone would be stupid as to make a deal like that.” He also argued that Iran was “emboldened” by the agreement to act confrontationally on the world stage.
During his presidential campaign, Trump promised both to “dismantle the disastrous deal” and to “force the Iranians back to the bargaining table to make a much better deal.”
Since taking office, his administration has adopted a hawkish and confrontational stance with Tehran.
In February, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a number of entities connected to Iran’s ballistic missile program and warned the Islamic Republic it had been “put on notice” and that it was “playing with fire” afer it test-firing a medium range missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, which the White House contends violated a UN Security Council resolution proscribing missiles that could carry a nuclear device.
Tuesday’s determination suggested that while Trump agreed with findings by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran is keeping to its end of the bargain, he is looking for another way to ratchet up pressure on Tehran.
Despite the sanctions relief, Iran remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism for its support of anti-Israel groups and is still subject to non-nuclear sanctions, including for human rights abuses and for its backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.
The nuclear deal was sealed in Vienna in July 2015 after 18 months of negotiations led by former Secretary of State John Kerry and diplomats from the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia — and Germany. Under its terms, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program, long suspected of being aimed at developing atomic weapons, in return for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
Opponents of the deal, including Israel, objected, saying it only delayed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and did not allow for the kind of inspections of its atomic sites that would guarantee it was not cheating. Obama, Kerry and others who negotiated the deal strenuously defended its terms and said the agreement made Israel, the Middle East and the world a safer place.
In a phone call last month between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two leaders discussed the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats,” according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Netanyahu said last month that “Iran is the greatest generator of terrorism in the world in the world and we need to to fight this terror because it is just one arm of Iranian aggression, which also seeks nuclear weapons and advances its ballistic missiles program.”