Trump refuses to certify Iran nuclear agreement
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US President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it.
Trump announced the major shift in US policy in a speech in which he detailed a more confrontational approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East.
Trump accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Tehran never obtains a nuclear weapon. He suggested Iran might be working with North Korea on its weapons programmes, an accusation that has not been substantiated.
“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 said.
While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he gave the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.
That increases tension with Iran as well as putting Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord such as Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union.
If Congress reimposes the sanctions, the United States would in effect be in violation of the terms of the nuclear deal and it would likely fall apart. If lawmakers do nothing, the deal remains in place.
In his 18-minute speech, Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”
Trump on Friday also gave the US Treasury Department broad authority to impose economic sanctions against people in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or entities owned by it in response to what Washington calls its efforts to destabilize and undermine Iran’s opponents in the Middle East.
“We hope that these new measures directed at the Iranian dictatorship will compel the government to re-evaluate its pursuit of terror at the expense of its people,” he said.
European leaders’ joint response
“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,” French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a joint statement released after Trump concluded his speech, using the acronym for the agreement, called formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The three European leaders, who had agreed prior to Trump’s announcement to have a common position, stressed that they backed the landmark agreement.
They also said they shared American concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional activities and were ready to work with Washington to address those concerns.
“We stand ready to take further appropriate measures to address these issues in close cooperation with the US and all relevant partners,” they said.
“We look to Iran to engage in constructive dialogue to stop de-stabilising actions and work towards negotiated solutions.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who was touted as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate for her work on the 2015 agreement, said the EU would abide by it and she expected other parties to do the same.
"We cannot afford as an international community, as Europe for sure, to dismantle an agreement that is working and delivering," she said.
But Europe’s top diplomat also stressed that the accord reached between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States after 12 years of bargaining "does not belong to any single country".
"To my knowledge there's not one single country in the world that can terminate a UN Security Council resolution that has been adopted, and adopted unanimously, and implemented, and verified," she said.
"It is clearly not in the hands of any president of any country in the world to terminate an agreement of this sort. The president of the United States has many powers (but) not this one."
In a televised address shortly after Trump’s remarks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said “we will continue to stick to” the deal, while warning the nation could change its mind.
"Today the United States is more than ever opposed to the nuclear deal and more than ever against the Iranian people," Rouhani said.
Trump’s harder line on Iran was, meanwhile, welcomed by Israel.
Israel’s intelligence minister Israel Katz described Trump’s speech as “very significant” in an interview on Friday on Israel’s Channel 2.
He also appeared to agree with the interviewer's suggestion Trump's comments could lead to armed conflict with Tehran. However, Katz’s spokesman issued a statement Saturday that the minister’s reply was directed at an earlier part of the question and that he had not intended to say that an war would erupt.
The move was part of Trump’s “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.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the latest strategy of coaxing Congress to act may not work.
“What we are laying out here is this is the pathway we think provides us the best platform from which to attempt to fix this deal,” he said. “We may be unsuccessful. We may not be able to fix it. And if we’re not then we may end up out of the deal.”
The Republican president had been under strong pressure from European leaders and US lawmakers to swallow his concerns and certify the nuclear deal because international inspectors say Iran is in compliance with it.
European allies, some of which benefit economically from a relaxation of sanctions on Iran, had warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and said that putting the deal in limbo as Trump has done undermines US credibility abroad.
International inspectors say Tehran is in compliance with the nuclear accord, under which crippling economic sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for it agreeing to drastic limits on its nuclear programme. Iran always denied allegations that it aimed to build a nuclear bomb.
After Trump’s speech on Friday, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano reiterated the UN atomic watchdog’s stance that Iran is under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime.”
“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” Amano said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)