on Friday will propose amending the landmark international nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Iran to toughen restrictions on Tehran and impose new sanctions on the country’s powerful military.
Despite his campaign vow to “rip up” the 2015 deal with Iran and six major powers Trump will not void it but instead will attempt to renegotiate key aspects and set “triggers” that could further punish Iran if it engages in what the administration says is destabilizing behavior.
“This is the best platform to fix the deal,” Secretary of State said ahead of Trump’s speech planned for Friday afternoon, which aides said would lay out a broader Iran strategy.
“It may not work,” Tillerson added.
Tillerson conceded that Iran is technically in compliance with the deal — as Trump has reluctantly certified twice before — but the secretary of State said it’s a low bar to meet.
Trump’s decision is likely to anger Iran, vex allies who are signatories, complicate efforts by all parties to bring Iran back into the international fold and perhaps erode leverage that Washington might have had. The changes he seeks would go to Congress, where debate over the deal has been fierce.
European allies, especially, had been lobbying the Trump administration not to abandon the nuclear deal. The path Trump is announcing seems to be a middle ground, imposing tougher restrictions while not walking away from a complex and important deal.
Tillerson spent much of the week on the telephone informing other signatories to the deal of Trump’s decision.
American "behavior on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned.
By law, the president must certify every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the deal and that the agreement serves national security interests. After twice doing so, Trump indicated for weeks that this time would be different. The next deadline is Sunday.
In 2015, the Obama administration brokered the agreement with Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the , along with Iran. In exchange for getting rid of most of its centrifuges, disabling its plutonium-producing heavy-water reactor at Arak and agreeing to regular United Nations inspections, Iran received considerable sanctions relief: readmittance to the international banking system, permission to trade on the oil market and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in overseas assets.
Trump and senior members of his administration have repeatedly said Iran’s broader behavior should be taken into consideration, not merely its agreement to halt efforts to produce nuclear weapons. That would include actions such as Iran’s work to develop ballistic missiles and its support for armed militants in Yemen, Syria and other countries — issues that were never part of the nuclear agreement.
Trump agreed not to reimpose the nuclear-related sanctions, for now.
However, Tillerson said, if Iran crosses certain lines, or “triggers,” such as using ballistic missiles, Washington might reimpose those sanctions. That would essentially leave the broader nuclear agreement in tatters.
At the same time, the administration wants to add amendments that would “lay alongside” the nuclear deal, Tillerson said; those would end so-called sunset clauses, which are the dates when some of the curbs on Iran’s would be lifted.
“We are never going to accept [Iran] resuming their nuclear weapons program,” Tillerson said.
This strategy, Tillerson said, would aim to set in stone the curbs on Iran. It comes at a time when tensions are at a fever pitch with North Korea over its more advanced nuclear program.
Tillerson said the choices were bleak in confronting a potentially nuclear-armed Iran: walking away from the deal altogether, or attempting to give it more teeth. Trump is recommending the latter course, but said Congress would have to be on board.
Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, said he was confident that Congress, which has failed to pass any major legislation this year, would support amendments that toughen the deal. This is one issue, he said, that has strong bipartisan support.
“No one is for Iran getting a nuclear weapon,” McMaster said. “No one is for Iran continuing its destabilizing behavior.”
Tillerson was less certain: “I don’t want to suggest to you that this is a slam dunk.”
Tillerson and McMaster briefed reporters at the White House on the eve of Trump’s speech.
Trump is also directing the Treasury Department to blacklist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite unit of the Iranian military whose commanders hold stakes in key industries and lead Iran’s military actions in foreign lands.
Tillerson ticked off several of those campaigns, including the Revolutionary Guard’s support for Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim militant organization in Lebanon that he said was bent on destroying Israel, and the Houthi rebels waging a civil war in Yemen against a government backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Trump is ordering sanctions on the Revolutionary Guard, any entities it owns and any individuals who support it. The group, Tillerson said, is involved in shipping weapons and fighters around the globe and in cyber attacks. The Guard is also involved in more legitimate businesses in Iran, and sanctions on it may make it difficult for other countries to do business with it.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, in a speech in Texas, said the Revolutionary Guard and its allies “are the cudgels of a despotic theocracy, with the IRGC accountable only to a supreme leader. They’re the vanguard of a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East."
The United Nations watchdog assigned to monitor the Iranian compliance, the , has repeatedly said Tehran is obeying the terms of the deal. The IAEA conducts regular and vigorous inspections of sites in Iran. But Tillerson and others in the administration have argued that too many sites remain off-limits, and access is often delayed long enough for the Iranians to hide what they may be doing.
Tillerson was asked if, by attempting to change the Iranian deal, the administration would erode trust among other nations in Washington’s credibility for negotiating any future deals — as some allies have warned.
“They can trust we will never do a deal this weak again,” Tillerson said.
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