WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement if Congress and U.S. allies do not agree to strengthen it, throwing the future of the deal into doubt as he unveiled a tough and comprehensive new policy toward the Islamic Republic.
“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Trump said in a major speech at the White House laying out the sharp turn in U.S. Iran policy.
Trump accused Iran of committing “multiple violations of the agreement,” despite the fact the International Atomic Energy Agency, America’s European allies and even his own government say Tehran is complying with the 2015 deal reached by former President Barack Obama and major world powers.
He said Iran had “failed to meet our expectations in its operations of advanced centrifuges,” and “intimidated” international inspectors into not using their full authority.
He also accused the Obama administration of lifting sanctions on Iran under the terms of the deal at a moment when the Iranian clerical regime was about to collapse, an assessment that contradicts the views of many experts.
The president announced he would no longer make regular certifications that the lifting of sanctions under the deal was in the U.S. interests.
“We cannot and will not make this certification. 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,” he said.
“I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.”
He said the flaws of the agreement included “sunset” provisions under which limits on Iran’s nuclear program will begin to expire.
Proponents of the deal dispute that. The president warned the deal was plagued by “insufficient enforcement” and near total silence on the missile program.
And he had a warning that if he did not get the changes he wanted, he would walk away from the deal.
“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated. It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me as president at any time,” he said.
“History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes.”
He added some pointed critiques of what he called the “fanatical regime” in Iran, saying its “two favorite chants are ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel.'”
Trump’s comments are likely to dismay America’s allies who oppose reopening the deal, even though they support countering what they see as nefarious Iranian activity throughout the Middle East.
They also went a lot further than senior aides, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had suggested.
While Trump’s move sends the deal’s fate to Congress, he did not rip up the agreement. Tillerson had suggested that if Congress does not agree to impose new sanctions on Iran the deal would remain in place.
But Trump’s warning that he would terminate the agreement appeared to call that into question.
Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions that would likely cause Iran to walk away from the deal.
Republicans and Democrats alike — who also face upcoming battles over taxes, immigration and health care — have shown few signs they’re willing to take up another divisive issue.
If lawmakers decide to impose new punitive economic sanctions on Iran, the deal will likely fall apart.
Instead, the Trump administration wants members of Congress to adopt new measures that would keep the deal intact, while spelling out parameters by which the U.S. would impose new sanctions should Iran violate its agreements.
Trump had been weighing his Iran decision for weeks and faced intense pressure from European allies to maintain the U.S. commitment to the accord.
His national security advisers had encouraged him to avoid completely withdrawing from the agreement, which was signed by the U.S. along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran in 2015.
A complete removal of the United States from the nuclear deal would isolate the United States and provide an opening for Iran to rethink its own commitments on reducing nuclear stockpiles, some of Trump’s advisers and foreign counterparts warned.