President Donald Trump announced on Friday that he is decertifying, but not withdrawing from or rewriting, the Iran nuclear agreement.
While the president delivered blistering criticism of Iran’s “fanatical regime” and argued the country has violated the spirit of the 2015 agreement that aims to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he left the deal’s fate up to Congress.
“We cannot and will not make this certification,” Trump said during a speech at the White House. “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.”
Trump has effectively given Congress three options: Do not subject Iran to new sanctions and leave the agreement as is; apply sanctions and withdraw from the deal; or renegotiate the deal.
Iran has made clear that it will not take part in any renegotiation of the deal, which China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany are all party to.
But Trump threatened to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement if Congress is unable to agree on a solution, which will require 60 votes and bipartisan support in the Senate.
“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” he said. “Our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.”
Trump campaigned on his promise to “rip up” the agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration in an effort to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program and is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
But on July 17, the president recertified the JCPOA — which is required by Congress every 90 days — for the second time, after he was warned by his top aides and cabinet officials that withdrawing would threaten US national security interests and told that, while the deal is imperfect, it provides crucial benefits for the US and its allies.
Earlier this month, Defence Secretary James Mattis publicly broke with the president, telling Congress he believes it is in the US national security interest to remain a party to the agreement, which also involves several other nations.
“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” Mattis said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 3. “I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also sharply disagreed with the president on his approach to the agreement.
In August, The Guardian reported that the Trump White House was pushing intelligence analysts to provide justification for declaring Iran in violation of the tenants of the deal. That pressure reportedly reminded some analysts of the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“They told me there was a sense of revulsion. There was a sense of déjà vu,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who served as special adviser to former President Barack Obama. “There was a sense of, ‘We’ve seen this movie before.'”
The deal is supported by key US allies, including the UK, whose conservative foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, reaffirmed the country’s support of the agreement, arguing that it “neutralized” Iran’s nuclear threat.
Experts argue that Trump’s motivations for scrapping the deal are more political than strategic.
“He doesn’t want to certify the Iran deal for more domestic reasons than international ones,” Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told The Washington Post. “He doesn’t want to certify that any piece of the Obama strategy is working.”
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