Update: Confirming our note from earlier this morning, the Washington Post has just confirmed that President Trump will deliver a speech next Thursday to officially announce plans to “decertify” the international nuclear deal with Iran. According to WaPo, Trump is expected to lay out a broader strategy with respect to Iran but will stop short of reimposing sanctions that would nullify the agreement.
President Trump plans to announce next week that he will “decertify” the international nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is not in the national interest of the United States and kicking the issue to a reluctant Congress, people briefed on an emerging White House strategy for Iran said Thursday.
The move would mark the first step in a process that could eventually result in the resumption of U.S. sanctions against Iran, which would blow up a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities that the country reached in 2015 with the U.S. and five other nations.
Trump is expected to deliver a speech, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12, laying out a larger strategy for confronting the nation it blames for terrorism and instability throughout the Middle East.
Under what is described as a tougher and more comprehensive approach, Trump would open the door to modifying the landmark 2015 agreement he has repeatedly bashed as a raw deal for the United States. But for now he would hold off on recommending that Congress reimpose sanctions on Iran that would abrogate the agreement, said four people familiar with aspects of the president’s thinking.
All cautioned that plans are not fully set and could change. The White House would not confirm plans for a speech or its contents. Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to report to Congress on whether Iran is complying with the agreement and whether he judges the deal to be in the U.S. national interest.
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In the months leading up to the November 2016 election, Trump repeatedly referred to Obama’s secretive Iran Nuclear deal as “the worst deal I’ve ever seen negotiated” (here’s just one example). Of course, for a man who only speaks in absolutes, it’s difficult to know what that meant for the fate of the deal but it didn’t sound positive, nonetheless.
Now, according to the Washington Free Beacon, Trump, over the objections of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, could declare Iran in breach of Obama’s deal as early as next week and set the stage for Congress to once again impose stiff sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The Trump administration is expected to announce next week that it will not formally certify Iran as in compliance with the landmark nuclear agreement, a move that could kill the agreement and set the stage for Congress to reimpose harsh economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, according to multiple U.S. officials and sources familiar with the situation.
While some senior Trump administration officials—including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis—are pushing for President Donald Trump to preserve the deal, it has become increasingly clear the president is frustrated with Iran’s continued tests of ballistic missile technology and rogue operations targeting U.S. forces in the region, according to these sources.
Designating Iran as in non-compliance with the deal would loosen restrictions on how the United States can target Tehran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, which has been the main entity behind Iran’s military operations in Syria and elsewhere in the region. It also would allow the administration to save face in the short-term by not technically walking away from the agreement.
The final nail in the coffin, these sources said, was the recent admission by the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, that it cannot fully assess whether Iran is working on sensitive nuclear explosive technology due to restrictions on inspections and specific sites in the Islamic Republic.
Still, according to the Financial Times, the increasing rhetoric from the White House could be nothing more than an effort to “minimize political embarrassment” while ultimately “maintaining the deal.”
Western officials say Mr Trump is frustrated by rules that require him to certify an agreement he framed as the “worst deal ever” every 90 days, in keeping with a 2015 law giving Congress oversight of the agreement.
“He is looking for options that minimise the domestic political embarrassment of ultimately maintaining the deal,” said a western official.
Of course, Tillerson and Mattis are not alone in their opposition to withdrawing from the controversial deal as several other military and intelligence experts argue that some oversight is preferable to none at all.
Retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency, told the Free Beacon that there are always challenges to ensuring Iranian compliance. However, some level of inspections is better than none at all.
“Confirming compliance is always challenging,” Hayden said, echoing the thinking of many current and former U.S. officials. “That’s why the intelligence folks always insist on an invasive monitoring regime. That combined with national capabilities should give you reasonable confidence.”
“The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said yesterday that Iran was not in material breach of the deal,” Hayden noted. “That looks to be true and I would expect the intelligence community to be able to detect significant breaches.”
The chief challenge is ensuring Iran is not cheating on the deal by engaging in illicit research activities or other types of nuclear work that are less easy to detect, according to Hayden.
“Cheating around the edges would be a different matter,” he said. “Of course, all this would be harder to do if the deal collapsed and the international inspectors were no longer able to perform even their current tasks.”
Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz, a long-time, vocal opponent of the deal, maintains that Trump has no option but to decertify Iran and allow Congress to enact harsh penalties because of the IAEA’s admission that Iran continues to refuse them access to various military facilities – a clear requirement of the terms of the deal.”
“The IAEA’s admission that they are unable to verify a fundamental provision under the nuclear deal—that the Iranians are not engaging in activities or using equipment to develop a nuclear explosive device—is highly alarming. In these circumstances, issuing a compliance certification would be serious mistake,” Cruz said.
“If the Iranians are serious about a peaceful program, they need to prove it. Iran’s continued refusal to allow IAEA access to military sites—a clear requirement of the terms of the deal—renders the JCPOA utterly ineffective, and, even worse, a sham that only facilitates Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons,” Cruz said. “This absence of any meaningful verification is yet another reason to vitiate this foolhardy agreement.”
Other administration insiders who spoke to the Free Beacon said the president no longer wants to pretend the deal is working.
“The president already knew that continued sanctions relief to Iran was inappropriate and not in our interest given their behavior, which was more than enough to decertify. He said so repeatedly,” said one veteran Iran analyst close to the White House and privy to discussions about the matter. “Now there’s this new issue where the IAEA just admitted publicly they’ve been unable to verify entire sections of the deal, which makes the whole thing a no-brainer.”
“Decertifying clears a lot of clutter off the table because our guys no longer have to pretend the deal is a good deal,” the source said. “They can let it stay in place for a while or try to fix it, all while focusing on the rest of Iran’s aggression.”
So what say you…is some oversight better than none at all or is Trump right that the United States is just getting outwitted by a cunning adversary.