President Donald Trump is once again extending the Iran nuclear deal, but Trump will “terminate” the agreement unless Congress and European allies agree to strengthen it, Trump said in a statement Friday.
“This is a last chance,” Trump said. “In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately.”
The statement appears to set a mid-May deadline for the deal’s fate. That is when Trump must again choose, as he did Friday, whether to waive economic sanctions on Tehran. They were suspended by the Obama administration in July 2015 as part of the agreement negotiated with Iran and five other nations. Under the law, the president must decide whether to continue the waivers every 120 days.
The decision is an at least temporary victory for Trump’s national security team, which has spent months trying to persuade a president who has long denounced the nuclear deal that walking away from it would be a self-inflicted foreign policy calamity for the U.S.
But supporters of the deal are nervous about its prospects. Trump’s decision “keeps the deal on life-support for now but puts it on a path toward collapse,” said Philip Gordon, a former Obama national security official who advised Obama on the negotiations.
Officials said Trump is also targeting 14 Iranian individuals and entities with new sanctions unrelated to the nuclear deal. They include Iranian military cyber units and the head of Iran’s judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, whose brother is the speaker of Iran’s parliament. Larijani was named in response to Iran’s harsh repression of nationwide protests that erupted last month, administration officials said, and show that the sanctions “go to the top of the regime” and the the U.S. “is not going to tolerate the continued violation of the rights of their citizens.”
But Trump also expects Congress and European nations, with whom the White House has been negotiating new provisions to crack down on Tehran, to take action before he faces another deadline for extending the deal.
“No one should doubt my word,” Trump said in his statement. “I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people. If other nations fail to act during this time, I will terminate our deal with Iran.”
Trump set out criteria for Congress to amend legislation it passed in 2015 governing the deal. They include provisions requiring “immediate” access to Iranian faciilities by international inspectors and an explicit declaration that the U.S. sees Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program and its nuclear program as “inseparable.”
For weeks, national security adviser H.R. McMaster has been negotiating potential new legislation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), so far to no avail.
In a statement, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (D-NY), was skeptical about the prospects for a legislative fix.
“[W]e need to put to rest the canard that Congress can somehow unilaterally change the deal,” Engel said. “Any legislation that affects America’s adherence to the deal would make us the country walking away from our commitments. Like it or not, we need to uphold our end of the bargain so that we can hold Iran to its obligations and crack down on the regime’s other destabilizing activities.”