Trump faces deadlines this week that could decide fate of Iran deal

US secretary of state has said the president is working ‘on a very active basis’ with Congress to ‘fix’ the agreement

US President Donald Trump speaks during the swearing-in ceremony for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on December 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump speaks during the swearing-in ceremony for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on December 8, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump faces two major deadlines this week that could determine whether the United States will quit the Iran nuclear deal.

On Friday, Trump will have to decide whether to sign a number of waivers that would block the renewal of sanctions removed under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is formally known.

If he does not sign those waivers, the sanctions will automatically be reinstated, putting the US in contravention of the deal’s terms and likely spelling the end of the 2015 pact.

Under the accord, the US president has to sign the waivers every 120 days, while the American intelligence services monitor the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the deal, which rolled back crippling sanctions against Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

As a candidate, Trump expressed intense disapproval of the deal, repeatedly promising to tear it up should he be elected and often calling it the “worst deal ever negotiated.” Since ascending to the Oval Office, however, he has stepped back from such dramatic action.

Still, in October, Trump decertified the deal under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a congressional mandated measure that requires the president to determine if Iran is in compliance. The administration charged that Iran was not living up to the “spirit” of the agreement and asked Congress to unilaterally impose “trigger points” on the deal that will reimpose nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran should it overstep certain bounds.

Those trigger points, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters at the time, would be aimed primarily at addressing what the administration sees as flaws in the deal, such as the sunset clause, which is set to lift limitations on Iran’s nuclear program when the accord expires in over a decade, and Iran’s ability to continue developing its ballistic missile program.

The move forced Congress to set another review period to determine whether to hit Iran with sanctions that were in place before the accord was implemented, or potentially take other actions.

Trump faces another deadline on Thursday, when he will be required to again certify Iranian compliance with the deal, which he must do every 90 days under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

Tillerson told the Associated Press last week that Trump had yet to make a decision on what he will do this week. He said the administration was talking with lawmakers on “a very active basis” about coming to a resolution.

“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” he told the AP. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”

And yet, Tillerson also intimated there was still a long way to go before reaching a conclusion. “I don’t want to suggest we’re across the finish line on anything yet,” he said.

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