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.