News ID: 4105017 -

Trump prepares to wound Iran deal then save it

TEHRAN, Oct. 04 (MNA) – Donald Trump’s national security team has unanimously recommended that he decertify the Iran nuclear deal — but that he stop short of pushing Congress to reimpose sanctions on Tehran that could unravel the agreement.

Trump’s team plans to work with Congress and European allies to apply new pressure on Iran, according to a strategy developed in an Iran policy review led by national security adviser H.R. McMaster. But the strategy assumes the nuclear deal will remain intact for now, reported Politico.

The deliberations ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda, were described by a half-dozen sources inside and outside the administration who have participated in the internal debate.

As a candidate, Trump described the agreement as “catastrophic” and “the worst deal ever.” But the strategy represents a nuanced approach to one of the most important foreign policy decisions of his early presidency. The goal is to allow the president to demonstrate contempt for the agreement and broadcast a new level of toughness toward Iran - without triggering the international chaos several of his advisers warn would follow from a total withdrawal from the 2015 deal.

Administration officials cautioned that the strategy has not yet been finalized, and that it could change before the president makes an official announcement.

But Secretary of Defense James Mattis hinted at the approach early Tuesday when he told a congressional panel that he believes the deal is in America’s interest and that Trump should “consider staying in.” Appearing alongside him, Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the agreement has “delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran.”

Though their rhetoric was far more positive about the deal itself than Trump's, it is consistent with a White House strategy of decertifying the agreement without pushing Congress to dissolve it through sanctions — and may preview an administration effort to signal to Congress and US allies that Trump is not withdrawing from the deal.

Iran has warned that if the US reimposes sanctions, Tehran might restart its nuclear program. Some experts and former Obama officials say that could begin a spiral toward possible military confrontation.

Congress requires the president to certify Iranian compliance with the deal every 90 days. International inspectors and Trump officials like Dunford say that Iran is meeting its technical obligations. But Trump must also declare whether the agreement remains “vital to the national security interests of the United States,” and he is unlikely to do so.

Under the law, Congress would then have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions lifted by the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump is expected to act as early as next week, though White House officials said an exact date has not been set. After he does, administration officials are expected to press Republican lawmakers not to reimpose nuclear sanctions, which would effectively unravel the agreement in the eyes of the Iranian government and many US allies.

In return, Trump officials, led by McMaster, plan to reassure congressional Republicans — virtually all of whom opposed the deal — with a pressure campaign against Iran.

That campaign is at the heart of McMaster’s policy review, due Oct. 31, which has been conducted quietly as the debate over the nuclear deal has played out in public. The new policy is expected to target Iranian-backed groups, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah, and the financial web that facilitates them.