Iran nuclear deal: Trump under pressure as decision nears

AFP  Brendan Smialowski

AFP Brendan Smialowski

President Donald Trump finds himself under vast pressure as he considers de-certifying the worldwide nuclear deal with Iran, a move that would ignore warnings from inside and outside his administration that to do so would risk undermining US credibility.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., opposed the Iran nuclear agreement in part because the deal gave Tehran access to tens of billions of dollars in previously frozen assets.

Trump has called the accord "an embarrassment" and "the worst deal ever".

A decision by Trump to decertify the deal would leave it at grave risk, with the US Congress having 60 days to decide whether to re-impose specific sanctions on Tehran that were lifted because of the diplomatic pact. Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and denies it has aimed to build an atomic bomb.

Officials familiar with the internal deliberations as well as informed sources outside the administration say they expect Mr Trump to tell lawmakers that the Iran deal is not in the U.S. national security interest despite Iran's technical compliance.

"They came up with a plan that protects the things they are concerned about but doesn't recertify, which the president made clear he was not going to do".

The officials discussing the details and timing of the announcement spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.

Global inspectors say Iran is in technical compliance with the accord, but Trump says Tehran is in violation of the spirit of the agreement and has done nothing to rein in its ballistic missile program or its financial and military support for Hezbollah and other extremist groups. "The chances of him walking away from it go down if they work with him on making it better", the official said. Sherman said if the deal is renounced, Iran gets to keep all the money and also is freed from the restraints imposed by the agreement. But France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the European Union - who negotiated the deal along with the U.S., China, Russia, and Iran - have all said the deal is working well and urged the stay in it.

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The lifting of sanctions is dependent on Iran restricting its nuclear programme. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., would demand that the intelligence community produce judgments on a wide range of Iranian behavior that is not covered by the nuclear deal, including ballistic missile testing and development and threats to Israel and the Mideast more broadly. European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini believes that this will send a message to the worldwide community that USA is not trustworthy when it comes to deal making.

Zarif also told lawmakers that Iran "will never renegotiate" the deal, according to a report on the semi-official Fars news agency. Iran has said it may exit the deal if the US withdraws.

Trump faces an October 15 deadline mandated by law to tell Congress if he believes Iran is complying with the nuclear accord and if it advances US interests.

Refusing to certify the deal could pave the way for the United States to fully withdraw, but analysts say the move could just be a way of putting pressure on Iran.

"The decertification is an essential first step to persuading the Europeans that the alternatives to fixing the deal could be President Trump's decision to abandon the deal", said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan policy institute.

"If the feeling is that the United States no longer supports the agreement, then the political reality is that the agreement will be in serious jeopardy and its implementation will be very hard", a senior French diplomat said.

Engel said the USA would lose any leverage it has with allies in the deal if it abandons the JCPOA.

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