President Trump is announcing a new strategy on Iran that shifts the focus from Tehran’s nuclear program to other actions the administration says are destabilizing.
The new strategy, outlined in a fact sheet released by the administration early Friday, comes as Trump is expected to decertify Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal it entered into with the Obama administration and several world powers.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the agreement, which lifted sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Tehran reducing its nuclear facilities, dubbing it “the worst deal ever.” He was reportedly frustrated the last time he was asked to certify that Iran was complying with the deal, suggesting he would not do so again.
Decertifying Iran would set up a 60-day timeframe for Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran, which would effectively remove the U.S. from the deal. The sanctions could not be filibustered in the Senate.
But U.S. allies in Europe are unlikely to reimpose their own sanctions, raising questions about the effectiveness of such a move.
The fact sheet from the Trump administration does not touch on the decertification issue, but it repeatedly criticizes the Obama administration for being overly focused on Iran’s nuclear program.
“The full range of the Iranian regime’s malign activities extends well beyond the nuclear threat it poses,” the fact sheet states, saying it includes ballistic missile development and proliferation; material and financial support for terrorism and extremism; support for the Syrian government's atrocities against its own people; hostility to Israel; threats to navigation in the Persian Gulf; cyberattacks against the U.S., Israel and other allies; human rights abuses; and the detention of foreigners.
The fact sheet also criticizes the Obama administration’s “myopic focus” on Iran’s nuclear program “to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities” that it says allowed “Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high-water mark.”
Trump also criticizes U.S. policy stretching back to the administration under former President George W. Bush for “consistently” prioritizing “the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy.”
As a result, it says the U.S. has neglected Iran’s expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at “keeping its neighbors weak.” This language seems directed at least in part at Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group based in Lebanon and backed by Iran.
“The Trump administration will not repeat these mistakes,” the fact sheet states, arguing it will instead “address the totality of these threats from and malign activities by the Government of Iran and will seek to bring about a change in the Iranian’s regime’s behavior.”
It says this strategy will be realized by policy “that neutralizes and counters Iranian threats,” particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The administration said it would focus on denying funding for the IRGC.
Trump is slated to make an announcement Friday afternoon on his Iran strategy. The president had faced a Sunday deadline to inform Congress of whether Tehran is in compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“The reckless behavior of the Iranian regime, and the IRGC in particular, poses one of the most dangerous threats to the interests of the United States and to regional stability," the White House said.
“The Iranian regime has taken advantage of regional conflicts and instability to aggressively expand its regional influence and threaten its neighbors with little domestic or international cost for its actions,” it continued. “This occurred most recently following the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the vacuum created by the Obama administration’s ill-considered withdrawal from the region.”
Trump's rhetoric on the deal has put the United States' European allies, who were involved in brokering the deal, on edge.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that Germany would work with allies in the European Union, Britain, China and Russia to persuade Trump to preserve the agreement.
Trump has certified the deal twice in the past, and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford have all said Iran is in compliance with the deal.
Mattis even went as far as telling Congress that staying in the deal was in the U.S.'s national interest.
Former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryUS can lead on climate action by supporting developing countries Queen Elizabeth resting 'for a few days' after hospital stay Twenty-four countries say global net-zero goal will fuel inequality MORE, who helped broker the deal on behalf of the U.S., ripped Trump's stance on the agreement on Thursday, saying the current administration was lying to the American people.
Kerry, along with former Obama administration officials Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court declines to hear challenge to Obama marine monument designation | Interior reverses course on tribal ownership of portion of Missouri river | White House climate adviser meets with oil and gas companies Moniz: Texas blackouts show need to protect infrastructure against climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Back to the future on immigration, Afghanistan, Iran MORE and Wendy Sherman, briefed congressional Democrats on Wednesday on the importance of preserving the deal.
Some Republicans have signaled they are not interested in reimposing sanctions on Iran.
“As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday.
“Let’s work with allies to make certain that international inspectors have better access to possible nuclear sites, and we should address the fundamental sunset shortcoming, as our allies have recognized. This committee will do its part tomorrow by marking-up the Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act," he added.