WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, but will leave it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions.
Trump also announced new, targeted sanctions against members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which he said is “directly supporting” terrorists in the Middle East.
“History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes,” Trump said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
The announcement cast the future of the Obama-era agreement in doubt, but the president stopped short short of calling on Congress to reimpose nuclear sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“The Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one sided transactions the U.S. has ever entered into,” Trump said, repeating an assertion he made many times during his 2016 campaign for the White House.
“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. We need negotiators who will much more strongly represent America’s interest,” he added.
According to Trump, the 2015 deal handed the Iranian government $100 billion it “could use to fund terrorism.”
“The regime also received a massive cash settlement of $1.7 billion from the U.S., a large portion of which was physically loaded onto an airplane and flown in Iran,” the president said. “Just imagine the sight of those huge piles of money being hauled off by the Iranians, waiting at the airport for the cash. I wonder where all that money went
“Worst of all, the deal allows Iran to continue developing certain elements of its nuclear program and importantly, in just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint toward a rapid nuclear weapons breakout.,” Trump said. “In other words, we got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons. What is the purpose of a deal that, at best, only delays Iran’s nuclear capability for a short period of time?”
The president then went on to charge the Iranian government has violated the terms of the agreement on multiple occasions. “On two separate occasions, they have exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water. Until recently, Iranian regime has also failed to meet our expectations of its operation of advanced centrifuges,” the president said.
Trump’s tone was a marked contrast to that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who briefed reporters on the decision Thursday night.
According to Tillerson, the president’s announcement does not mean the administration believes Iran is not in “technical compliance” with the agreement, just that the terms of compliance have not been difficult for the country to meet.
For example, Tillerson said the administration is concerned about how long it takes the international group that conducts inspections to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement to gain access to the country’s nuclear sites.
“The president has come to the conclusion that he cannot certify under INARA that the sanctions relief that was provided is proportionate to, in effect, the benefit that we’re seeing from that agreement,” Tillerson said.
The deal, which the Obama administration struck with five other countries in 2015, lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country cutting back on its nuclear capabilities.
Now that the administration has decertified the agreement, Congress is free to re-impose those sanctions, but Tillerson and the administration hope lawmakers will instead amend the INARA to put in place “some very firm trigger points” that would automatically snap sanctions back into place when Iran reaches points in the agreement the administration finds troublesome.
The administration hopes the amendment would open up the countries that crafted the Iran agreement to negotiations on a new deal that would “lay along beside” the current one. Amending the INARA to eventually snap sanctions back into place would put a strict deadline for the countries to solve some of the problems the Trump administration has with the current agreement, Tillerson said.
Chief among these concerns are the so-called “sunset” provisions in the agreement that slowly take off certain limitations on the country’s nuclear capabilities, as well as the deal’s silence on Iran’s use of ballistic missiles.
“That’s what the president has asked us to do, either put more teeth into this obligation that Iran has undertaken for all the sanctions relief and the benefit it received, or let’s just forget the whole thing and we’ll walk away, we’ll start all over,” Tillerson told reporters on Thursday.
Tillerson said he has talked with the European countries that signed the deal about an additional agreement. He also talked Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations.
Tillerson said renegotiating an entirely new deal has little chance of success, but that the other members of the agreement have at least been willing to discuss an add-on.
“I don’t want to suggest to you that we give that a high chance of success, but there is an openness to talk about it,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson said the administration has been quietly passing around a proposed amendment to the INARA on Capitol Hill and that House and Senate Republican leadership has been “supportive” of the changes, while Democrats have at least been willing to listen.
“I don’t want to suggest to you this is a slam dunk up there on The Hill, we know it’s not,” Tillerson said. “People have very strong feelings about this nuclear arrangement with Iran, but we also feel strongly.”