Trump uses UN speech to blast Iran deal: Update
Adds comments from the presidents of France, Iran
Washington, 19 September (Argus) — US president Donald Trump used his first speech before the UN General Assembly to renew his pledge to review the nuclear accord that last year lifted restrictions on Iran's crude oil exports.
"The Iran deal was one of the worst and one-sided transactions the US has entered into," Trump said today. "Frankly, it was an embarrassment to the US. And I do not think you have heard the last of it, believe me."
Trump's criticism and choice of words is not new. But they come less than a month before a crucial deadline required for the US to continue observing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement, signed in July 2015 between Iran and the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
The US administration by 15 October has to certify to Congress that Iran continues to implement the JCPOA and that the agreement remains in US interests. Trump's administration in April and July submitted that certification, endorsing conclusions by the UN nuclear watchdog the IAEA and other JCPOA signatories.
Trump has made clear his intention to overturn the agreement regardless of whether Iran has complied with it. Administration officials have been pitching ways to accomplish this goal. But the US' European allies have been warning Washington against a unilateral withdrawal.
"Renouncing it will be a grave error," French president Emmanuel Macron said today, just hours after Trump's address. "It would be irresponsible for us to fail to uphold the agreement."
The JCPOA is working and Iran is delivering on its commitments, as certified by the IAEA, EU foreign affairs commissioner Federica Mogherini told US vice president Mike Pence today.
"The JCPOA is not (re)negotiable. A 'better' deal is pure fantasy," Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said via Twitter.
The JCPOA joint commission will meet in New York tomorrow, providing an opportunity for US secretary of state Rex Tillerson to have his first face-to-face meeting with Zarif. The State Department would not confirm whether Tillerson himself will take part in the meeting.
The administration's next step is "still under review by the president with the secretary of state and his national security cabinet," State Department policy director Brian Hook said yesterday.
A decision to decline to certify Iran's compliance or finding the JCPOA is no longer in the US national security interests would trigger a 60-day timeline for Congress to decide whether to reimpose restrictions on Iran's crude sales.
Reimposing US restrictions on Iran's crude sales unilaterally will have almost no effect, according to James Jeffrey, who served in senior diplomatic roles under former presidents Barack Obama and George Bush.
The US sanctions on Iran presented an "outrageous attack on the sovereignty" of all the countries forced to cut back imports of Iranian crude in 2012-15, Jeffrey said. But the EU and other countries "swallowed their pride and accepted these somewhat insulting sanctions" because they shared the US' views on Iran, he said.
"But Trump's administration is not very popular among the other [JCPOA signatories] and there is a real risk that if we reimpose sanctions, we will be blamed for violating the agreement."
A unilateral re-imposition of US nuclear-related sanctions could affect at most 400,000 b/d of Iran's crude exports, compared with almost 1mn b/d taken off the market in 2012-15, former US State Department sanctions policy deputy co-ordinator Richard Nephew estimates.
Iran since the JCPOA went into effect in January 2016 recaptured most of its export markets and increased production by about 900,000 b/d to 3.83mn b/d in August.
The US hopes its European allies at the very least would back it on the need for tougher measures against Iran's ballistic missile program — an approach Macron he supports. "But we must not cast aside the agreements we made," Macron said.
"Whether Iran is willing to negotiate with the United States or others about other issues, depends on the JCPOA," Rohani said yesterday. "The nuclear deal will be the measure of our trust in the US."