Trump steps back from killing Iran nuclear deal and labelling military as 'terrorist'

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US president expected to 'decertify' current deal, but will stop short of harshest threats against Tehran

Donald Trump has called the nuclear agreement 'the worst deal' (Reuters)
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Friday 13 October 2017 12:48 UTC
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Donald Trump is to "decertify" the international deal on Iran's nuclear programme and call for its toughening up - but will shy away from his toughest threats against Tehran in a policy speech on Friday, according to US officials.

At a White House speech this afternoon, the US president is expected to declare the 2015 agreement as no longer in his country's national interest.

“It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction," Trump said in a White House document released before the speech. 

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Iran nuclear deal garners some bipartisan congressional support

Under US law, Trump has to re-certify the deal every 90 days. Decertification passes the problem to Congress, which has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran - a move that would effectively kill the deal. However, White House statements suggest Trump wants to toughen the agreement, rather than kill it outright.

Republican senators Bob Corker and Tom Cotton on Friday said they had developed legislation intended to address what they saw as deficiencies in the 2015 agreement.

They said their measure, if passed by Congress, would remain in force indefinitely, lead to tougher inspections and automatically reimpose sanctions if Iran is proved to be a within a year of producing a nuclear weapon.

Trump had repeatedly pledged to overturn the nuclear deal, and has derided it as "the worst deal" and one agreed to out of "weakness".

According to officials, Trump will also stop short of threats to label the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "terrorist" organisation - rather, Trump is expected to levy limited sanctions.

But briefings on the new policy show that Trump will push in other ways to contain Iran. "The United States' new Iran strategy focuses on neutralising the government of Iran’s destabilising influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants," a White House fact sheet said.

"We will rally the international community to condemn the IRGC’s gross violations of human rights and its unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on specious charges," the White House said.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin warned Washington on Friday that abandoning the deal would be a heavy blow to international relations and non-proliferation efforts.

"This could seriously aggravate the situation around the Iranian nuclear dossier," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. 

"Such actions will unequivocally damage the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world."

Divisions and debates

The outcome "probably reflects more some of the divisions and debates within the administration," said former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.

The Iranian nuclear agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US - at talks coordinated by the European Union.

Since coming to office, Trump has faced intense lobbying from international allies and his own national security team, who argue the deal should remain in place.

UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, lashed out at his US counterpart saying he was opposing "the whole world" by trying to abandon a landmark nuclear agreement.

"It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is respected by the nations of the world and global public opinion," he added.  

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Trump's Iran policy could result in another war in the Middle East

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said on Thursday that the US would work with allies in the Middle East to contain Tehran's activities.

"We have footprints on the ground, naval and air force is there to just demonstrate our resolve, our friendship, and try to deter anything that any country out there may do," he said.

In a statement to AFP, leading Republican Senator Marco Rubio described the accord as "fatally flawed" and said he was open to legislation that would "substantially improve America's ability to counter Iran's nuclear, terrorism, militancy and regional threats".

'Mixing everything means risking everything'

The Kremlin warned Washington on Friday that abandoning the Iran nuclear deal would be a heavy blow to international relations and non-proliferation efforts.

"This could seriously aggravate the situation around the Iranian nuclear dossier," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"Such actions will unequivocally damage the atmosphere of predictability, security, stability and non-proliferation in the entire world."

After Trump's nationalist UN speech last month, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned that the deal "doesn't belong to one country... it belongs to the international community".

US allies have not been convinced by the argument that the deal fell short because it left Iran free to develop ballistic missiles and sponsor proxy militias in its region.

"Mixing everything means risking everything," a French diplomatic source told AFP. "The existential threat is the bomb. The nuclear deal is not meant to solve Lebanon's problems."

Europe fears not only that Iran will resume the quest for the bomb but that the US is relinquishing its leadership role in a stable, rules-based international system.

On Tuesday, the British prime minister, Theresa May, called the White House to impress upon it her government's "strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners". 

In parallel, her foreign minister, Boris Johnson, told his US counterpart Tillerson "that the nuclear deal was an historic achievement".

"It was the culmination of 13 years of painstaking diplomacy and has increased security, both in the region and in the UK," he argued.