Iran nuclear deal: Trump decertifies Obama-era agreement and accuses Tehran of spreading 'death and chaos'

The President's more confrontational strategy toward Iran is likely to complicate relations with European allies

Alexandra Wilts
Washington DC
Friday 13 October 2017 17:35 BST
Trump accuses Tehran of spreading 'chaos around the globe'

Donald Trump has struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement – in defiance of other world powers – by choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal.

During a speech at the White House, Mr Trump accused the "fanatical regime" in the Iranian capital of spreading "death, destruction and chaos around the globe" as he again called the nuclear pact "one of the worst" agreements the US has ever entered into.

However, he stopped short of scrapping the agreement altogether, saying he wanted his administration to work with Congress and other nations to address the "deal's many serious flaws".

"In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated," he warned. "It is under continuous review, and our participation can be cancelled by me, as President, at any time."

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Mr Trump said he wants to see action soon to fix the deal's flaws, adding that he could end the accord instantly.

When asked why he did not choose to scrap the deal now, the President replied: "Because we'll see what happens over the next short period of time. And I can do that instantaneously. I like a two-step process much better."

European officials have categorically ruled out renegotiating the deal, but have said they share Mr Trump's concerns over Iran’s destabilising influence in the Middle East.

Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief and one of the deal’s chief negotiators, said the agreement will remain valid regardless of Mr Trump's decision.

Mr Trump said in his address that the the deal is merely a "temporary delay" on Iran's "path to nuclear weapons", declaring that Iran had committed multiple violations of the agreement – despite his own officials having repeatedly said that Iran was technically abiding by the deal.

He singled out Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for sanctions for "supporting terrorism" and delivered a blistering critique of Tehran, which he accused of destabilising conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

“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,” Mr Trump said.

The move by Mr Trump was part of his “America First” approach to international agreements which has led him to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Tehran had threatened reprisals if Mr Trump took any action against the IRGC, and responding directly to Mr Trump's speech, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran was committed to the deal and accused Trump of making "baseless accusations".

“The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure,” he said. “Iran and the deal are stronger than ever.”

Under the 2015 agreement with six nations, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear programme for at least 10 years in exchange for the loosening of economic sanctions that had crippled its economy. The signatories of the accord were the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the EU.

Mr Trump said the removal of sanctions was giving what he called the "regime" in Iran an immediate financial boost, increasing its funds to support terrorism.

By decertifying the agreement, the President has started the clock on a 60-day congressional review of the deal.

The President is urging Congress to toughen requirements for Iran to continue receiving relief from US sanctions. He also wants lawmakers to amend legislation to highlight troubling non-nuclear Iranian behaviour not covered by the deal.

Republican members of Congress were unanimously opposed to the agreement in 2015, but they have wavered since then on whether Mr Trump should enforce it.

Mr Trump's more confrontational strategy toward Iran is likely to complicate relations with European allies while strengthening ties with Israel.

A vocal opponent of the agreement when it was signed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Mr Trump's "courageous" decision.

"I congratulate President Trump for his courageous decision today. He boldly confronted Iran's terrorist regime," the prime minister said in a video statement he released in English.

But both UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron this week had tried to persuade Mr Trump to re-certify the deal. Ms May has called the agreement "vital", while Mr Macron has said it is "essential for peace".

International inspectors say Iran is in technical compliance with the accord. Meanwhile, Mr Trump says Tehran is in violation of the spirit of the agreement and has done nothing to rein in its ballistic missile programme or its financial and military support for Hezbollah and other groups.

The leaders of Britain, France and Germany also issued a joint statement warning the United States against taking decisions that could harm the nuclear deal such as re-imposing sanctions.

The three leaders – Ms May, Mr Macron and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel – also said they shared US concerns over Iran's ballistic missile program and regional destabilising activities and were ready to work with Washington to address those concerns.

Mr Macron's office said he had spoken with Rouhani by telephone and assured him of France's commitment to the deal, but that Tehran must strictly comply with it.

Russia's foreign ministry said there was no place in international diplomacy for threatening and aggressive rhetoric such as that displayed by Mr Trump and said such methods were "doomed to fail", in a statement issued after Mr Trump's speech.

The ministry said Mr Trump's decision to decertify the deal would not have a direct impact on implementation of the agreement but that it ran counter to its spirit.

There was no immediate reaction from China, though Alexei Pushkov, a pro-Kremlin MP in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said neither Moscow nor Beijing backed Mr Trump's stance.

“Russia of course does not support the US position, nor does China. So Trump will be left in proud isolation in an attempt to improve his image among his own supporters,” Mr Pushkov told Russia'™s state-run Rossiya-24 TV station.

Mr Trump had already certified the agreement twice and was clearly reluctant to do so a third time.

John McLaughlin, a former acting CIA director under Republican President George W Bush, called the decertification of the Iran deal one of Mr Trump's "worst decisions".

The decision "feeds Iran hardliners, splits allies, shreds US credibility, roils congress [and is a] gift to Russia," he wrote on Twitter.

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