Donald Trump abandons campaign promise to dissolve Iran nuclear deal, conceding ‘conditions have been met’
Iran’s foreign minister has accused US of sending mixed messages on nuclear deal
US President Donald Trump backed away from a campaign promise to scrap a major nuclear security deal with Iran on Tuesday, with officials announcing the agreement and related sanctions relief will stay in place for now.
Under the terms of the two-year-old agreement, Tehran scaled back production of nuke-making material in return for massive sanctions relief.
The Trump administration faced a new congressional deadline on Monday to say whether Iran has curbed its nuclear weapons programme in line with the accord.
“The conditions,” according to one official who the White House would not name publicly, “have been met, based on information available to the United States.”
The 2015 agreement rests on a series of technical benchmarks, and was seen in Washington as a way of avoiding military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuke.
But it has not relieved tensions between Tehran and Washington, which continue to clash particularly over conflicts in the Middle East like Syria and Yemen, where Iran-backed militias hold clout.
During his election campaign Trump denounced the Obama-era deal, promising to renegotiate it and vowing to get tough on Iran.
Trump has now twice affirmed Iran’s compliance since taking office – effectively keeping the deal in place.
But the White House took pains to stress it was not going soft on Iran, pointing to new non-nuclear sanctions and stricter implementation of the deal.
An official added: “we do expect that we will be implementing new sanctions that pertain to Iran’s ballistic missile programme and fast boat programme.”
“Iran remains one of the most dangerous threats to US interests and regional stability,” the official said.
A steely view of Iran binds Trump’s national security team, which at times appear to have little else in common.
Many in Trump’s cabinet tangled with Iran-backed militias during the US occupation of Iraq.
Former Marines like Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Defence Secretary James Mattis also keenly remember Iran-backed Hezbollah’s attack on the corps barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
Top among the list of concerns today are improved Iranian missile capabilities, support for the Syrian government, human rights abuses and the detention of Americans.
“The president and the secretary of state judge that these Iranian activities severely undermine the intent of the [agreement], which was to contribute to regional and international peace and security,” one official said.
“As a result the president and the secretary of state and the entire administration judged that Iran is unquestionably in default of the spirit” of the accord, the official added.
Iran on Monday complained about receiving “contradictory signals” from the US administration about the fate of the nuclear deal but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he has yet to discuss it with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In New York to attend a UN forum on development, Zarif said he was open to speak with Tillerson as Washington carries out a review of the 2015 agreement reached with world powers on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme.
“There are no communications between myself and Secretary Tillerson,” Zarif said at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It doesn’t mean there can’t be. The possibilities for engagement ... have always been open.”
Trump campaigned on a pledge to scrap the nuclear agreement – which he described as “the worst deal ever” – and in May ordered a review of the pact.
“We receive contradictory signals,” Zarif said when asked about the possible outcome of the review. “It’s very clear that Iran is serious about the nuclear deal and we believe the nuclear deal can lay the foundation.”
The absence of communication with the US administration is in sharp contrast with Zarif’s dealings with former secretary of state John Kerry, with whom he negotiated the agreement. Zarif said he and Kerry spent more time together “than with anybody else”.
The foreign minister asserted that Iran would never seek to develop nuclear weapons and recalled that the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, had certified that Tehran was in compliance with the agreement.
Representatives of the five nuclear powers – China, Russia, France, Britain, the US – plus Germany are to meet in Vienna on Friday to take stock of the deal.
Zarif said they would discuss Iran’s complaints about non-US compliance, accusing the US administration of failing to lift sanctions in line with the deal.
Any move by the US Congress to re-impose sanctions on Iran would “of course” be “a violation” of the nuclear deal, Zarif said, but he did not say what Tehran’s response would be to such legislation.
The foreign minister also offered to do “all it takes from my side” to address, on humanitarian grounds, the case of a Chinese-American sentenced to 10 years in prison and that of other US detainees.
Asked about Xiyue Wang, a 37-year-old researcher at Princeton University, Zarif said Iran’s courts were independent and that “we in the government do not have any control over the decisions of the judiciary”.