President Donald Trump is expected to say Friday that the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in U.S. national security interests, but he won’t withdraw from the landmark 2015 accord or immediately re-impose sanctions against Tehran, according to U.S. officials and outside advisers to the administration.
Trump’s speech from the White House will outline specific faults he finds in the pact but will also focus on an array of Iran’s troubling non-nuclear activities, four officials and advisers said. Those include Tehran’s ballistic missile program, support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and other groups that destabilize the region, including in Yemen.
Under U.S. law, Trump faces a Sunday deadline to notify Congress whether Iran is complying with the accord that was negotiated over 18 months by the Obama administration and determine if it remains a national security priority.
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Although Trump will allow that Iran is living up to the letter of the agreement, he will make the case that the deal is fatally flawed and that its non-nuclear behaviour violates the spirit of the regional stability it was intended to encourage, the officials and advisers said.
The officials and advisers, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly preview the speech, said Trump will not call for a re-imposition of nuclear sanctions on Tehran.
He will instead urge lawmakers to codify tough new requirements for Tehran to continue to benefit from the sanctions relief that it won in exchange for curbing its atomic program. And he’ll announce his long-anticipated intent to impose sanctions on portions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps by designating them terrorist organization under an existing executive order, according to the officials and advisers.
“The reckless behavior of the Iranian regime, and the IRGC in particular, poses one of the most dangerous threats to the interests of the United States and to regional stability,” the White House said in a statement released ahead of the speech. The statement, which did not reveal Trump’s decision, denounced the Obama administration for its “myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities” and said the same “mistakes” would not be repeated.
“The Trump administration’s Iran policy will address the totality of these threats from and malign activities by the Government of Iran and will seek to bring about a change in the Iranian’s regime’s behavior,” it said.
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In his speech, Trump will ask Congress to amend or replace legislation that currently requires him to certify Iranian compliance every 90 days. Officials have said that Trump hates the requirement more than the nuclear deal itself because it forces him to take a position every three months on what he has repeatedly denounced as the worst deal in American history. That frequency has also irritated aides who have complained that they are spending inordinate amounts of time on certification at the expense of other issues.
White House aides had initially sought a venue for Trump’s address that would project American power and determination. The shuttered former Iranian embassy in Washington was briefly considered before being deemed inappropriate. Officials also considered the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial, which was ruled out because it is currently being renovated. The Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House was eventually agreed.
American allies, who have pressed the White House to remain in the nuclear accord, will be closely watching the president’s address. Trump wants to impress on the European parties to the accord — Germany, France and Britain — the importance of fixing what he sees as flaws in the nuclear accord and addressing malign behavior not covered in the agreement.
The Europeans, along with the other parties, Iran, Russia and China, have ruled out reopening the deal. But some, notably France, have signaled a willingness to tackle unresolved issues in supplementary negotiations.
Among those issues are the expiration of several restrictions on advanced nuclear activity under so-called “sunset clauses” that will allow Iran to begin ramping up its enrichment capabilities after 10 years, the end of an arms embargo and the eventual easing of demands for a halt to its missile program.
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In the speech, Trump hopes to “recruit” the Europeans into joining his broad strategy, particularly by punishing the Revolutionary Guard, which he and his national security team believe is fomenting instability, violence and extremism throughout the Middle East and beyond, according to one official.
In anticipation of Trump’s announcements, Republican legislators have drawn up a new version of the law replacing the current 90-day timetable with “semi-annual” certifications, according to drafts seen by the Associated Press this week.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker said in a statement on Friday that his panel had agreed to fresh certification criteria to include items that are also the province of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and require the U.S. intelligence community to determine if Iran is carrying out illicit activity in facilities to which the International Atomic Energy Agency has not had access.
The certification would also demand that the intelligence community produce judgments on Iranian behavior not covered by the nuclear deal, including missile testing and development, backing for Hezbollah and Assad and threats to Israel and the Mideast more broadly, according to the drafts.