Washington: President Donald Trump is weighing a new strategy to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions that would leave a 2015 agreement intact for now but ask Congress to toughen a law overseeing the Islamic republic’s compliance with the accord, according to three administration officials.
The goal behind the strategy, which Trump is expected to announce next week, would be to present a unified front from the administration and Congress to European allies, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified discussing an issue on which the president hasn’t announced a final decision.
The officials declined to say if Trump would also “decertify” Iran’s compliance with the deal, a decision he has to make every 90 days under US law.
Trump has railed against the accord, which was brokered during the Obama administration, as the “worst deal ever” and an “embarrassment to the United States.”
Asked in an interview broadcast on Saturday if he would pull the US out of the Iranian nuclear deal, Trump said, “I won’t say that.”
“A few days from now, almost a week and a half to be exact, you’ll see.”
Before meeting with senior military leaders at the White House on Thursday evening, Trump told reporters, “We must put an end to Iran’s aggression and nuclear ambitions.”
Saying that Iran hasn’t “lived up the spirit of the nuclear agreement,” Trump said “you’ll be hearing about Iran very shortly.”
But US allies that are part of the accord, as well as China and Russia, say it’s been effective. They point to assessments by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran is meeting requirements to curb its nuclear programme.
That hasn’t persuaded Trump.
Although the president has twice certified Iran’s compliance with the agreement, which lifted a range of economic sanctions in exchange for restrictions on the nuclear programme, he signalled in a July interview with the Wall Street Journal that he wouldn’t do so again before an approaching October 15 deadline.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders gave a hint about the new approach in a briefing with reporters on Thursday, saying Trump will propose “a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with Iran” and will have “a unified team behind him supporting that effort.”
Staying in the accord but decertifying Iran’s compliance would meet a standard set publicly this week by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
He told congressional committees that it’s in the US interest to stay in the Iran deal but that decertification is a “distinct” matter.
Meanwhile, the chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on Sunday the US should move its military bases farther from Iran’s borders if it imposes new sanctions against Tehran, the official IRNA news reported.
The Sunday report quotes General Mohammad Ali Jafari as saying: “If new sanctions go into effect, the country should move its regional bases to a 2000-kilometre radius” out of the range of Iranian missiles.
He said if the US imposes sanctions it would eliminate “any chance for engagement forever.”
What is the proposal?
Congress would be asked to amend the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.
One possible change would be to require that Congress periodically certify that Iran remains at least a year away from developing a nuclear weapon.
Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, is currently working on legislation to amend the original law, according to one of the officials.
An outside expert familiar with the administration’s thinking, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private, said the proposal put forward by Trump’s advisers would offer a “third way” to certify that the deal is in the US interest, roll out a comprehensive pressure campaign against Iran and use that to build leverage for negotiations with European allies in the future.