President Trump declared Friday that the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in the national security interest of the United States, but stopped short of withdrawing from the Obama-era pact.
“I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification,” Trump said during a speech at the White House.
“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout," he continued.
The president said that Iran “has committed multiple violations of the agreement" and accused Tehran of "not living up to the spirit of the deal.”
Trump ticked off a list of problems with the deal and laid out a new, tougher strategy to confront “the rogue regime” over a series of other “hostile actions” unrelated to its nuclear program.
But Trump declined to completely abandon the 2015 agreement, which he derided as "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," or to call on Congress to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran that would hasten its demise.
The decision is a compromise forged out of heated internal discussions about what to do with the nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers.
It comes before a Sunday deadline when Trump would have been forced to notify Congress whether Iran was still in compliance with the deal and if it still fit the nation’s security interests.
Trump has certified Iranian compliance twice before, but was reportedly livid over the prospect of doing so again.
He has repeatedly condemned the agreement and declared Iran has violated its “spirit” with its non-nuclear behavior, including its support for Syrian leader Bashar Assad and militant groups in the Middle East as well as its ballistic missile program.
Although Trump last certified Iran’s compliance in July, he nearly did not after former chief strategist Stephen Bannon handed him an op-ed published in The Hill by former United Nations ambassador John Bolton that laid out the case that the deal wasn’t in the U.S. national security interest, according to a report in The Weekly Standard.
Trump was convinced to go through with the certification then, but it was clear it would not happen again.
Several top advisers — including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, 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 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 — worried a withdrawal would enflame tensions with Iran and spark a regional crisis. They scrambled to come up with an alternative path that allowed Trump to send a message to Tehran without torpedoing the pact.
Trump argued, however, that the deal is untenable, saying it “will be terminated” if no agreement is reached to strengthen and change it. He said the revisions must "ensure that Iran never — and I mean never — acquires a nuclear weapon."
Trump did not call on Congress to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities, something that would effectively remove the United States from the deal.
Instead he asked Congress to pass new benchmarks Iran would need to meet in order to stave off nuclear-related sanctions in the future. That includes revisiting sunset provisions that allow Iran to ramp up uranium enrichment activity after 10 years.
“What we really have is a count down clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons development program,” Tillerson told reporters Thursday. “That sounds an awful like some North Korean deals that we’ve seen in the past.”
GOP Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (Tenn.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike MORE (Ark.) announced Friday they plan to introduce legislation that would “effectively” eliminate the sunset provisions, according to a summary provided by Corker's office.
The measure would automatically reimpose U.S. nuclear-related sanctions if Iran's “breakout” time — the time it takes to produce enough atomic material for a weapon — falls under one year.
Trump also ordered the Treasury Department to impose new penalties on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is an overseer of Iran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile program.
“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian supreme leader's corrupt terror force and militia," Trump said, arguing it has helped fuel unrest in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
The moves chip away at one of the centerpieces of President Obama’s foreign policy. His administration spent more than a year during the president’s second term brokering the agreement with Tehran.
One of the driving forces behind Trump’s 2016 campaign was rolling back Obama’s legacy and he has followed through by terminating his predecessor’s program for young immigrants in the U.S. illegally, rolling back his environmental policies, curbing the U.S. détente with Cuba, scrapping his Pacific Rim trade deal and eating away at the Affordable Care Act.
The nuclear deal generated fierce debate in Congress, and in 2015, lawmakers passed a measure that required the administration to certify Tehran’s compliance every 90 days.
Trump has chafed at the requirement and called for a change in the legislation that would allow the certifications to become less frequent.
European allies that helped broker the agreement have expressed concern with Trump’s approach. French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a joint statement that preserving the Iran deal "is in our shared national security interest."
"We encourage the U.S. administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the [deal], such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement," they said.
But the president is hoping they will sign on to a new effort to fix what he sees as major problems with the agreement. The three leaders said they are open to "further appropriate measures" to address Iran's ballistic missile activities and support of terror groups.
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, reportedly told members of parliament the government would react harshly to any U.S. move against the nuclear deal.
“I think he has made a policy of being unpredictable, and now he’s turning that into being unreliable as well,” Zarif said of Trump in a recent interview with The Guardian.