Washington: Iran is failing to fulfil the “spirit” of its nuclear deal with world powers, President Donald Trump has declared, setting an ominous tone for his forthcoming decision about whether to pull the US out of the landmark agreement.
As he often had during the presidential campaign, Trump ripped into the deal struck by Iran, the US and other world powers in 2015 and said “it shouldn’t have been signed.” Yet, he pointedly stopped sort of telegraphing whether or not the US would stay in.
“They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, I can tell you that,” Trump said of the Iranians on Thursday, though he did not mention any specific violations. Earlier this week, the administration certified to Congress that Iran was complying — at least technically — with the terms of the deal, clearing the way for Iran to continue enjoying sanctions relief in the near term.
On Iran, Trump and his top officials have been walking a narrow line as they seek to show an aggressive stance. While disparaging the nuclear deal and accusing Iran of fomenting violence and terrorism throughout the Middle East, Trump has avoided committing to abandoning the agreement, a move that would be staunchly opposed by US businesses and European allies.
Yet the president seems keenly aware that his indecisiveness about the deal’s future is a step back from his campaign declaration that as president he would rip it up or renegotiate.
He said of Iran, “I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed.”
Under the deal, brokered during the Obama administration, Iran agreed to roll back key aspects of its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from certain economic sanctions. Critics have said it’s unfathomable that the US would grant sanctions relief to Tehran even as Tehran continues testing ballistic missiles, violating human rights and supporting extremist groups elsewhere in the Middle East.
By design, the nuclear deal does not address those Western grievances, meaning that Iran can be in compliance even as it violates UN resolutions and remains a US-designated state sponsor of terrorism. The US has continued to punish Tehran for those activities with non-nuclear sanctions that also fall outside the purview of the deal.
Trump hasn’t given a timeline for when his administration’s review of Iran policy — including whether to stick with the deal — will be complete. But the US must decide next month whether to renew a waiver so that Iran can continue receiving sanctions relief.
Appearing in Israel on Friday at a news conference with Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was asked about Iran and the administration’s position on the nuclear agreement.
He said that Iranians “appear to be living up to their part of the agreement” and that “it continues to be in force.”
“That in no way mitigates against or excuses the other Iranian activities in the region including the war in Yemen that grinds on and what they’re doing in Syria to keep President Bashar Al Assad in power,” he said. Mattis added, “But the agreement on nuclear issues still stands and that’s all I can say about it.”