WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump followed through on a campaign threat Tuesday, announcing that the U.S. will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Though widely expected, the move is considered a significant blow to U.S. allies, including France’s Emmanuel Macron, who had lobbied hard for the president to stay in the agreement.
Addressing reporters in the White House, Trump said called Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and said if he allowed the deal to stand, “there would soon be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction,” the president continued. “It was a horrible, one-sided deal that should never have been made. It didn’t bring peace and it never will.”
Trump vowed to implement the “highest level” of economic sanctions, and said other nations may also pay a stiff price if they continue to do business with Iran.
“America will not be blackmailed,” the president said. “The United States does not make empty threats.”
“Powerful sanctions will now go into full-effect,” Trump said.
In a written statement, former President Obama called his successor’s decision “misguided,” and said walking away from the agreement “turns our back on America’s closest allies, and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated.
“In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers,” Obama said.
Sanctions imposed in 2012 were intended to punish Iran for its refusal to live up to its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. They were crafted prod other countries to curb their financial transaction with Iran and entities tied to it, and to cut back on their Iranian oil imports.
Three years later, Iran agreed to halt its pursuit of nuclear weapons — and to allow international checks on its facilities — in exchange for moves by the U.S., five other countries and the United Nations to roll back sanctions that had wreaked havoc on its economy.
The accord was widely seen as President Obama signal foreign policy accomplishment.
Trump’s announcement follows more than a year of internal White House debate over agreement, which Trump repeatedly denounced on the campaign trail in 2016, dismissing it as a “terrible deal.”
Over the past 15 months, Trump’s top advisors have repeatedly talked him out of considering anything more than symbolic action of the deal.
But the president has fired two key supporters of the agreement, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and replaced them with John Bolton and Mike Pompeo — both unabashed critics of the agreement.
Several heads of state visited Washington last month to lobby for a different outcome, including French president Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The president reportedly contacted Macron first Tuesday morning, telling him of his intent to withdraw. Trump also called Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Trump’s decision is a fulfillment on a campaign promise and delivers a victory for members of the GOP who have also long opposed the agreement.
In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hours before Trump’s announcement on Tuesday, three experts told lawmakers the president’s decision could have broad impacts, from damaging U.S. relationships with allies to impacting the credibility of its future agreements.
Lincoln Bloomfield, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center and a former national security official during both Bush administrations and the Reagan administration, told lawmakers that countries could be hesitant to sign deals with future presidents knowing they would be subject to domestic political swings.
“The day that other governments conclude that an executive agreement reached with one administration might easily be cast aside by the next president, they may insist on a treaty, requiring ratification by two-thirds of the Senate,” Bloomfield said. “Not only will the House of Representatives be disempowered, but presidential power to shape foreign policy, including in trade, will be diminished.”
Jane Harman, a former congresswoman from California and current director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, drew a line to Trump’s future negotiations with North Korea. If Kim Jong Un sees the United States pull out of the Iran deal, he might be less likely to trust that the United States will stick by Trump’s proposal with the next change in administration.
“If they think we don’t abide by the deals we make, why would we abide by a much tougher deal with them?” Harman asked.
Bloomfield added that the reputational damage could extend beyond the United States’ attempts to rein in rogue states in the future. With European powers like France and Germany also invested in the future of the deal, its failure could damage the United States’ relationship with its closest allies.
Harman endorsed this, noting that key European leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, have recently pushed the United States to remain in the agreement.
Stephen Rademaker, of counsel at Covington and Burlington and a former assistant secretary for international security and nonproliferation during the George W. Bush administration, told lawmakers he believes Trump’s decision does not mean he is abandoning the very idea of an agreement with Iran, but is simply attempting to enter negotiations from a position of greater strength.
“He’s going to negotiate with the Iranians,” Rademaker said. “Everything that’s going on now is him laying the groundwork for negotiations with the Iranians, I believe. He’s posturing.”
In a press conference discussing his strategy for Iran last year, Trump called the deal “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”
“The same mindset that produced this deal is responsible for years of terrible trade deals that have sacrificed so many millions of jobs in our country to the benefit of other countries,” Trump said last year.
On Monday, former Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the deal’s original negotiators, told guests at a conference panel that withdrawing would be a “dramatic mistake.”
“To play your hand and get out, take away leverage and then give them the excuse to go do other things, that’s good negotiation? Please. It doesn’t make sense. The president calling this the worst agreement ever clearly doesn’t make it the worst agreement negotiated ever. I challenge anybody to find an agreement that is tougher than the one we have in place now,” Kerry said.
Trump responded to Kerry Tuesday morning on Twitter: “John Kerry you can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country.”
While at a conference in Tehran Tuesday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani also weighed in, saying it was possible his country might face problems “for two or three months.”
“But we will pass through this,” Rouhani said.
According to the Associated Press, Rouhani emphasized the need for Iran to continue “engaging” with the world.
Eshaq Jahangiri, who is poised to run for president in Iran’s 2021 election, had a stronger reaction to Trump’s decision, telling an Iranian news agency ISNA, it was up to the United States to figure out “what to do with the deal.”
“But from now on, [only] naïve individuals would accept to enter talks with such a country,” Jahangiri said, adding that Iran was ready to manage its country “under any circumstance.”