Iran deal on the line as Trump nears deadline

Iran deal on the line as Trump nears deadline
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Iran deal supporters and opponents are digging in for a fight over the nuclear agreement as President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcCabe says he was fired because he 'opened a case against' Trump McCabe: Trump said 'I don't care, I believe Putin' when confronted with US intel on North Korea McCabe: Trump talked to me about his election victory during 'bizarre' job interview MORE’s decision on whether to withdraw nears.

Few observers expect that Trump will stay in the deal after next week’s deadline on May 12. But Trump has teased a possible twist, saying “nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th.”

Voices, both at home and abroad, are making pitches in hopes of swaying Trump to their side.

But Trump appears intent on withdrawing — barring a last-minute follow-up deal with the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

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“The president laid out some pretty clear stakes in ground for what he wanted from the Europeans. I think it’s just that easy,” said James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the Heritage Foundation who worked on the Trump transition. “He’s already across the Rubicon. He’s decided the deal’s not working, and a fix that doesn’t fix anything is not acceptable.”

The nuclear accord, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, gives Tehran billions of dollars of sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. The United States, Iran, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and the European Union signed the agreement.

Trump has three grievances with the deal. They include sunsets for several provisions, restrictions on which military sites inspectors can demand to see and the deal’s failure to cover other Iranian activities like its ballistic missile program or support for terrorist groups.

In January, Trump announced he would continue waiving sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal, but warned it would be the last time he does so unless the European signatories agree to a second deal that covers those three areas.

Failing to waive the sanctions on May 12 would essentially mean the United States has withdrawn from the agreement. As the deadline approaches, no deal with the Europeans appears imminent.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to persuade Trump to stay in the deal in visits to Washington two weeks ago. The visit from Macron, who has developed a friendly rapport with Trump, was seen in particular by supporters of the deal as the best chance to save it.

But Macron has sounded pessimistic about the deal’s fate since his meeting with Trump.

“My view — I don’t know what your president will decide — is that he will get rid of this deal on his own for domestic reasons,” Macron told reporters at the end of his visit to Washington.

Following Macron and Merkel's visits, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a dramatic presentation this week that appeared aimed at convincing Trump to scrap the nuclear deal.

Netanyahu’s speech was delivered in English in front of a screen on which he displayed visuals and talking points, including the words “Iran lied” in massive black letters. He presented what he said was conclusive evidence that Iran lied about its desire to obtain a nuclear weapon in the early 2000s, then hid the evidence so it has the ability to one day restart the program.

“This is a terrible deal. It should never have been concluded, and in a few days time, President Trump will decide, will make his decision on what to do with the nuclear deal,” Netanyahu said. “I’m sure he’ll do the right thing. The right thing for the United States, the right thing for Israel and the right thing for the peace of the world.”

Many brushed off Netanyahu’s speech as rehashing old information, but it appears to have hit a nerve with Trump.

“I'm not telling you what I'm doing, but a lot of people think they know,” Trump said after Netanyahu’s speech. "That doesn't mean I wouldn’t negotiate a new agreement. We’ll see what happens, but I think if anything what’s happening today and what’s happened over the last little while and what we’ve learned has really shown that I’ve been 100 percent right.”

Still, those who support fixing the deal are hopeful that Netanyahu’s speech will convince Europe they need to make a concrete agreement with Trump.

“There is a possibility for this data to be used for withdrawal, but you could also really pressure the Europeans to meet us more than halfway,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Taleblu thinks Netanyahu made a case to pressure Europe into agreeing to strong language on the military inspections issue.

“I think there’s a more-than-stringent case to go to the Europeans and say, ‘Meet us more than halfway, and this is why [Iran] can’t just give us a promissory note on military inspections,’ ” he said.

Carafano, at Heritage, said he was unsure of how Netanyahu’s play would affect the Europeans. Either way, though, Carafano said it’s an advantage for the Trump administration.

“This is fine because it really ramps up pressure on the Europeans, and if that doesn’t work, it reminds people why we’re walking away from the deal,” he said, describing Trump’s thinking.

Meanwhile, Obama administration officials have been out in force defending the agreement they negotiated. Former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents MORE tweeted in support of the deal after Netanyahu’s speech, while former Energy Secretary Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizWhat we learned from the first Green New Deal Overnight Energy: GOP pushes back on climate | 2018 was fourth hottest year on record | Park Service reverses on using fees Pompeo: Kerry's conversations with Iran 'unseemly and unprecedented' MORE talked on CNN about how it would be “foolish” to withdraw.

Three Obama administration officials also held a conference call with reporters Friday to discuss the consequences of not renewing the sanctions waivers, arguing the United States will also be abrogating its commitment to allies that signed the deal and give Iran an excuse to restart its nuclear program.

“The full effect of the move to not renew the waivers could take months to come completely into focus, given how the sanctions are structured, given that there’s actually multiple rounds of waivers, of waiver nonrenewals the president will have to go through,” Jake Sullivan, a former deputy assistant to former President Obama, said on the call. “But what will be immediately obvious after May 12 is that President Trump is throwing the United States and the Iran deal into a nuclear crisis essentially to cater to his political base, and neither the president nor his administration appear to have any strategy or plan for what comes next.”