In comments published Sunday, US President Donald Trump said it was “possible” that the United States would not remain in the Iran nuclear deal.
“I believe they have broken the spirit of the agreement,” Trump told the Associated Press. “There is a spirit to agreements, and they have broken it.”
Asked by the AP whether that meant the United States would stick with the 2015 deal, which swapped sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear program, Trump said, “It’s possible that we won’t.”
Trump’s administration in recent weeks has delivered mixed messages about the agreement, which he reviled during his campaign as the “worst” he had ever encountered but never fully pledged to kill.
Trump had said Thursday that Iran was failing to fulfill the “spirit” of its nuclear deal with world powers.
As he often had during the president campaign, Trump ripped into the deal struck by Iran, the US and other world powers in 2015 and said “it shouldn’t have been signed.” Yet he pointedly stopped short of telegraphing whether or not the US would stay in.
“They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, I can tell you that,” Trump said of the Iranians, though he did not mention any specific violations. Earlier last week, the administration certified to Congress than Iran was complying — at least technically — with the terms of the deal, clearing the way for Iran to continue enjoying sanctions relief in the near term.
Critics of the deal say the sanctions relief allows Iran to spend toward backing terrorism and promoting instability in the region. Trump also is unhappy that Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, which is barred by UN Security Council resolutions but is not under the terms of the nuclear pact.
Trump and his top officials have been walking a narrow line as they seek to show an aggressive stance. While disparaging the nuclear deal and accusing Iran of fomenting violence and terrorism throughout the Middle East, Trump has avoided committing to abandoning the agreement, a move that would be staunchly opposed by US businesses and European allies.
Under the deal, brokered during the Obama administration, Iran agreed to roll back key aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from certain economic sanctions. Critics have said it’s unfathomable that the US would grant sanctions relief to Tehran even as it continues testing ballistic missiles, violating human rights and supporting extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East.
By design, the nuclear deal does not address those Western grievances, meaning Tehran can be in compliance even as it violates UN resolutions and remains a US-designated state sponsor of terrorism. The US has continued to punish Tehran for those activities with non-nuclear sanctions that also fall outside the purview of the deal.
Trump hasn’t given a timeline for when his administration’s review of Iran policy — including whether to stick with the deal — will be complete. But the US must decide next month whether to renew a waiver so that Iran can continue receiving sanctions relief.
On Sunday Trump delivered a speech to the World Jewish Congress, telling delegates gathered for the organization’s plenary assembly in New York that anti-Semitism and prejudice should be fought wherever it is found and that threats by a “regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction” should never be ignored.
“We must defeat terrorism, and we must not ignore the threats of a regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction. We cannot let that ever even be thought of,” he said in reference to the Iranian regime, without naming it.
Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long-held that Iran and its nuclear program poses a threat to its existence. In a speech earlier this year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu said that Iran poses the “greatest danger” to Israel and predicted that the world’s silence in the face of the Islamic Republic’s threats to annihilate the Jewish state will end with Trump in office.
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