US President Donald Trump announced Friday that he would not recertify the Iranian nuclear deal, while not withdrawing from the pact, and outlined a new, tougher approach toward Tehran.
Trump said he was launching a tougher strategy to check Iran’s “fanatical regime” and warned that 2015’s landmark international nuclear deal could be terminated at any time.
In a much-anticipated White House speech, Trump stopped short of withdrawing from the accord, but “decertified” his support for the agreement and left its fate in the hands of Congress.
“We cannot and will not make this certification,” he said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
And, outlining the results of a review of efforts to counter Tehran’s “aggression” in a series of Middle East conflicts, Trump ordered tougher sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and on its ballistic missile program.
Trump said the agreement, which defenders say was only ever meant to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, had failed to address Iranian subversion in its region and its illegal missile program.
The US president said he supports efforts in Congress to work on new measures to address these threats without immediately torpedoing the broader deal.
“However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said, in a televised address from the Diplomatic Room of the White House. “It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me as president at any time,” he warned.
He added later, speaking of Congress, “They may come back with something that’s very satisfactory to me, and if they don’t, within a very short period of time, I’ll terminate the deal.”
Trump announced targeted sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards, a key instrument of Tehran’s military and foreign policy that the president described as “the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.”
He said he is authorizing the US Treasury Department to “further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.”
But the US leader backed away from designating the Guards Corps as a terror group, a move that would have triggered a slew of sanctions and almost certain Iranian retribution.
Simultaneously, the US Treasury said it had taken action against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards under a 2001 executive order to hit sources of terror funding and added four companies that allegedly support the group to its sanctions list.
Trump said he planned to ensure “Iran never — and I mean never — acquires a nuclear weapon.”
He accused the Obama administration of lifting sanctions on Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear accord “just before” they could cripple the regime and bring it to collapse.
“The Iran deal is one of the worst and one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” he said. “In just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint towards nuclear weapons breakout… What is the purpose of a deal that, at best, only delays” Iranian nuclear ambitions, he asked.
Furthermore, Trump said Tehran had failed to live up to certain parts of the agreement and was “not living up to the spirit of the deal.”
The president said Iran was “under the control of a fanatical regime” that has “spread death, destruction and chaos all around the globe.” He warned that “history has shown that the longer we ignore a threat the more dangerous that threat becomes.”
“The regime’s two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel,'” he noted.
He described Tehran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism,” saying it backs Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and “other terrorist networks,” and warning of “the increasing menace posed by Iran.”
Trump accused Iran of “multiple violations of the agreement,” but was light on specific examples.
The president said Iran had on two occasions exceeded the 130-metric-ton limit on heavy water, and that Tehran had “repeatedly” said it would not allow inspectors onto military sites suspected of having been “part of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.”
Trump also cited “many people” who think Tehran “is dealing with North Korea,” and said that Iran “continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
Trump stopped short of nixing the 2015 deal, instead taking the procedural step of “decertifying” the agreement and leaving its fate in the hands of the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons,” he said.
Trump singled out “sunset clauses” that eliminate restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program “in just a few years,” while citing “insufficient enforcement” and “near total silence on Iran’s missile programs.”
Iran and other parties to the agreement have said that they are not open to revising the accord.
Trump’s criticism of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the nuclear control accord reached between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — had raised global concerns.
World governments feared any US move to sabotage the arrangement could dash Washington’s diplomatic credibility and relaunch Iran’s alleged quest for a nuclear weapon, in turn provoking a new Middle East arms race.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear ahead of the president’s speech that his decision does not necessarily mean an end to the accord.
“The intent is that we will stay in the JCPOA, but the president is going to decertify,” Tillerson said.
“We’re saying, fine, they’re meeting the technical compliance,” he said, indicating that the broader agreement would remain intact for now, and that US lawmakers will have an opportunity to revisit the US sanctions regime.
Trump had repeatedly pledged to overturn one of his predecessor Barack Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievements, deriding it as “the worst deal” and one agreed to out of “weakness.”
The agreement stalled Iran’s nuclear program and marginally thawed relations between Iran and what Tehran dubs the “Great Satan,” but opponents, and even some supporters, say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence across the Middle East.
But since coming to office, Trump has faced intense lobbying from international allies and much of his own national security team, who argue the JCPOA should remain in place.
Both the US government and UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
US concerns about the Guards could also weaken the deal. Trump stopped short of designating the powerful military faction a global terror organization, as some hawks demanded, but his announcement of targeted sanctions is still likely to trigger an angry Iranian response.
Apart from running swaths of Iran’s economy and Iran’s ballistic program, the corps is also accused of guiding bellicose proxies from Hezbollah in Lebanon, to the Huthi in Yemen to Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria.
“We have considered that there are particular risks and complexities to designating an entire army, so to speak, of a country,” Tillerson said.
Instead the US will squeeze those directly supporting the corps’ “terrorist activities, whether it’s weapons exports or it’s weapons components, or cyber activity, or it’s movement of weapons and fighters around.”
Still, Trump’s tough-guy approach could yet risk undoing years of careful diplomacy and increasing Middle East tensions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon the landmark nuclear agreement.
“It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is respected by the nations of the world and global public opinion,” he added.
Congress must now decide whether to end the nuclear accord by “snapping back” sanctions, which Iran demanded be lifted in exchange for limiting uranium enrichment.
Trump will not ask Congress to do that, Tillerson said. “A re-imposition of the sanctions,” he said, “would, in effect, say we’re walking away from the deal.”
But lawmakers may yet decide to torpedo the agreement.
Proposals by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Bob Corker to introduce “trigger points” for new sanctions and extend sanctions beyond a pre-agreed deadline have spooked allies, who believe it could breach the accord.
But it remains unclear if their proposals can garner the 60 votes need to pass the Senate.