Trump takes first shot at Iran nuclear deal: Update 2
Updates with details and reaction throughout
Washington, 13 October (Argus) — US president Donald Trump said today the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in the US' national interests.
Today's announcement is not likely to have any immediate effect on global crude flows, since it does not automatically reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. But it raises questions about the future of the international agreement that last year lifted restrictions on crude exports from Opec's third-largest producer.
Trump tied his decision to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which sets out the conditions for the US to continue waiving the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
That law requires the president to formally certify, every 90 days, that Iran continues to comply with monitoring requirements on its nuclear program imposed by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and that the relief of nuclear-related sanctions remains in US interests.
A statement that Iran is not compliant with the agreement would contradict evidence from UN nuclear watchdog the IAEA and other JCPOA signatories — China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK.
The White House said it no longer views the relief of the nuclear-related sanctions as justifiable, given Iran's actions outside of the scope of the JCPOA.
The statement triggers a 60-day timeline for Congress to decide, by a majority vote, whether to re-impose those sanctions that are written into four separate US laws. Congress can opt to take no action.
The administration prefers a third option. Secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act should be amended "to put in place very clear trigger points for the sanctions to automatically go into place" without additional certification by the administration.
Those trigger points would include Iran's ballistic missile tests and would extend the monitoring requirements on Iran's nuclear program beyond the ten-year limit under the JCPOA.
"We are not recommending Congress reimpose sanctions, as it is tantamount to imposing sanctions and violating the JCPOA," Tillerson said. The US hopes instead to use the threat of sanctions and an amended US law to force both Tehran and US' European allies back to the negotiating table on issues outside of the JCPOA's scope.
Rewriting the law would require a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate — requiring the cooperation of at least eight Senate Democrats. By contrast, reimposing sanctions would take just 51 votes.
Support for tough sanctions on Iran is bipartisan. But Democratic leaders balked at taking steps seen as a pretext to overturning former president Barack Obama's key foreign policy accomplishment. "Threatening this agreement does not isolate Iran — it isolates America," US House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said.
The House will pass bills "to increase sanctions unrelated to JCPOA that target Iran's support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program when Congress returns in the coming weeks," majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) said.
Trump said he would withdraw the US from the agreement if his objectives of renegotiating issues outside of the JCPOA scope are not accomplished.
French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and UK prime minister Theresa May in a joint statement said they were concerned about possible implications of Trump's decision.
"We encourage the US administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement," the leaders said.
The EU has said it would continue to adhere to the agreement so long as Tehran remains in it. "The EU, together with the rest of the international community, is committed to preserve it, to the benefit of all, including the Iranian people," EU foreign commissioner Federica Mogherini said.
Tehran in response to Trump's speech said Iran would continue to implement the agreement unless "its rights and interests in the deal are not respected."
The US administration separately plans to step up pressure on Tehran through other means.
The State Department will ask Iran's regional partners to cut off or downgrade their commercial and political ties, deputy assistant secretary of state Tim Lenderking said. The effort is similar to an ongoing initiative by Washington to force North Korea's foreign partners to cut off ties with Pyongyang.
The US Treasury Department today slapped additional sanctions on entities connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a security force with extensive holdings in Iran's economy. The force is already on the US sanctions list, but Treasury cited it for "for providing support to a number of terrorist groups," allowing a wider array of punitive matters.
The US stopped short of designating the force as a "foreign terrorist organization." Tehran today warned that the designation or stronger sanctions against the corps would prompt a "strong and unified reciprocal reaction." Former US government officials point out that the corps' area of operations in Iraq and Syria exposes US special forces in those countries to retaliatory attacks.