Defense

Trump waives Iran sanctions for what administration says is last time

Trump waives Iran sanctions for what administration says is last time

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE will again waive sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, the White House said Friday.

But the Trump administration is imposing new, nonnuclear sanctions in response to Iran’s ballistic missile activity and its crackdown on anti-government protestors.

Trump also warned that this will be the last such waiver, calling for a follow-on deal with Europeans and a legislative fix from Congress.

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"Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies' agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal," Trump said in a statement Friday.

"This is a last chance. 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. No one should doubt my word."

The White House’s announcement Friday keeps alive for now an agreement that Trump has called the “worst deal ever negotiated” while trying project a continued hard-line stance against Tehran.

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The decision also represents a win for national security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonGary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden courts veterans amid fallout from Trump military controversies Trump says he wanted to take out Syria's Assad but Mattis opposed it Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November MORE, who have all advised against walking away from the international agreement.

The Obama-era deal between Iran and the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany provided Tehran billions in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. 

Trump and other critics say the deal is flawed because several provisions sunset and it does not address Iran’s other destabilizing activities, including its ballistic missile program and support for terrorists and proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But even many who objected to the agreement in 2015 say it’s not in the U.S. interest to withdraw now. Doing so, they say, would put the country at odds with its European allies and show that the United States reneges on its commitments.

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In October, Trump refused to certify to Congress that the deal is in the U.S. national interest. The announcement did not kill the deal, though, as the certification is a requirement of U.S. law, not the agreement itself.

But on Friday, Trump faced the first in a series of deadlines that could have killed the deal. The U.S. sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal have to be waived every few months, and a failure to do so would essentially mean the United States was no longer following the accord.

The deadline this week was complicated by the recent mass protests in Iran. Officially, more than 20 people have died and more than 1,000 have been arrested since the start of the protests at the end of December, though the numbers are said to be far higher.

The Trump administration has been eager to show it is on the side of the protesters and to retaliate against Tehran for cracking down on them. But those arguing to stay in the nuclear deal said tearing it up could have the opposite effect by drawing attention away from the protestors and imposing crippling sanctions that would ultimately hurt the Iranian people.

The new sanctions announced Friday are against 14 people and entities for serious human right abuses, censorship or weapons proliferation, an administration official told reporters. The new designations include sanctions against the head of Iran’s judiciary, an Iranian prison that is housing many of the arrested protesters, the director of the prison, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ electronic warfare and cyber defense organization, and Iran’s supreme council for cyberspace. 

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“As all of you have seen over the past couple of weeks, Iran’s malign activity really has been in full display,” an administration official said. “This includes its human rights abuses and censorship of protesters, including those held in Iranian prisons, as well as their continued developments of threatening weapons systems.”

In his October announcement, Trump also called on Congress for a legislative fix to address the issues he sees with the deal. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) has been working with the administration on the bill and has recently touted progress with Democrats and European allies. 

Committee ranking member Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinPelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  MORE (D-Md.), though, has indicated wide gaps continue to exist between Democrats and Republicans on the potential legislation.

An administration official told reporters Friday that the legislation must include four elements: a demand that Iran allow “timely, sufficient and immediate” inspections requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency; a requirement to remain above a one-year breakout time to achieving a nuclear weapon; an end to the sunset clauses by allowing the United States to immediately snapback sanctions if Iran restarts those activities; and state that U.S. law views Iran’s missile program as “unacceptable.”

It’s unclear whether Congress and Europeans will heed Trump’s call. The terms of the legislation laid out by the administration Friday are similar to a framework released by Corker and Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Abortion stirs GOP tensions in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ark.) in October that Democrats dismissed as an unacceptable unilateral rewriting of the deal.

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Administration officials have been meeting with European allies since the October announcement and have said progress has been made. But ahead of Trump's move, Britain, France and Germany agreed Thursday to reaffirm their support for the current deal.

“We want to protect the [deal] against every possible undermining decision whatever that may come,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said alongside his French and British counterparts and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. “It would send a very dangerous signal to the rest of the world if the only agreement that prevents the proliferation of nuclear weapons was negatively affected.”

Wendy Sherman, the former under secretary of State for political affairs and the lead U.S. negotiator of the nuclear deal, said in a conference call Friday that the Europeans would be unlikely to agree to a new deal with the U.S. without the inclusion of other parties to the initial agreement, including Iran, China and Russia.
 
"I cannot imagine that any process that will go forward will exclude the other players in the initial deal," Sherman said.
 
Max Greenwood contributed to this story.
 
This story was last updated at 4:12 p.m.