Trump will nix Iran nuke deal, senior Republican predicts

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker says Europeans look unlikely to amend pact before May 12 deadline

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Bob Corker talks to Margaret Brennan on the CBS network's "Face the Nation," March 18, 2018. (Screenshot)
Bob Corker talks to Margaret Brennan on the CBS network's "Face the Nation," March 18, 2018. (Screenshot)

Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the most influential Republicans, predicted Sunday that US President Donald Trump will not extend the nuclear deal with Iran when it comes up for renewal on May 12.

Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Corker, the outgoing senator from Tennessee, said, “Right now, it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be extended.

“I think the president likely will move away from it, unless our European counterparts really come together on a framework,” he said. “And it doesn’t feel to me that they are.”

Asked whether he thought the president would pull out of the Iran deal, Corker replied, “I do. I do.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Republican Bob Corker, talks to Margaret Brennan on the CBS network’s “Face the Nation,” March 18, 2018. (Screenshot)

The pact — reached in 2015 during the Obama administration between Iran on one side and the US, UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany on the other — limits Iran’s enrichment and its stockpiling of material that can be used to create nuclear weapons. In exchange, Tehran was granted widespread relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions.

In January, Trump said the deal, which he has called “disastrous,” had to be “fixed” by May 12, when it next comes up for review, or the United States would walk away from it.

Corker said that while the Europeans wanted to keep the deal in place, they were having problems reaching a common position on the so-called sunset provisions, vehemently opposed by Trump, which will expire in eight to 13 years, freeing Iran from many of the pact’s provisions.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Corker’s remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who told members of his cabinet a week ago that Trump would walk away from the deal in May, Channel 10 reported.

According to a report last week in the Axios news website, Trump told Netanyahu that he was demanding “significant changes” to the 2015 accord and vowed to walk away from it unless the European countries fixed it. However, Trump said that so far, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom had only offered “cosmetic changes,” the report said, quoting Israeli officials.

“I believe Trump is very close to canceling the nuclear agreement,” Netanyahu reportedly told his ministers. “The president spoke in the presence of his staff and senior government officials when he told me that if there is no significant change, he’ll pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.”

Political analysts are also questioning whether Trump’s firing-by-Twitter last week of secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and the appointment of anti-Iran hardliner Mike Pompeo in his stead, means Washington will kill the deal.

On Friday, officials from the US, Russia and other major world powers in charge of assessing the implementation of the deal met in Vienna with delegates from Iran, amid growing questions about the US commitment to the plan.

Abbas Araghchi (R), political deputy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, and the Secretary General of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) Helga Schmid attend E3/EU+3 and Iran talks at Palais Coburg in Vienna, Austria on March 16, 2018. (AFP/Joe Klamar)

Also on Friday, Germany, the UK and France suggested that the European Union impose new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program as well as its actions in Syria, in an effort to stop the US from exiting the nuclear deal with Tehran, Reuters reported Friday.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers will meet to discuss the issue in Brussels, and are expected to affirm that they believe the deal with Iran is good, and work to discourage Trump from pulling out. At the same time, they’re expected to start putting greater stress on Iran’s missile development and its destabilizing role in the region.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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