By RFE RL
By Mark Najarian
(RFE/RL) — U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to step up pressure on Iran, assailing Tehran as a “rogue regime” and threatening to walk away from the hard-won global deal to curb its nuclear program if what he called “serious flaws” are not fixed.
Trump, in a long-awaited Iran-policy speech on October 13, stopped short of renouncing the multilateral 2015 nuclear accord, but he refused to certify Iran’s compliance and said he would ask Congress to strengthen a U.S. law to put additional pressure on Tehran and deny it a “path” to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani responded to Trump’s speech in a televised address, saying the United States was “standing against an international treaty” and that it would lead to Washington’s isolation.
“Today, the United States is more than ever opposed to the nuclear deal and more than ever against the Iranian people,” Rohani said.
The Iranian president added that as long as Iran’s interests were preserved, Tehran would remain with the deal, and he rejected the inclusion of any new clauses to the agreement.
Trump also announced “tough sanctions” on Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for what he called its support for war and terror abroad, a move Tehran warned would bring a “proportionate response” from its side. The president did not, however, designate the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization.
During his campaign and into his presidency, Trump has consistently blasted the nuclear deal, calling the worst-ever accord negotiated by the United States and an “embarrassment.”
In his speech, he slammed Tehran for what he said were violations of the “spirit” of the agreement, in part for its continued testing of ballistic missiles and its support for extremists in the Middle East.
“While the United States adheres to our commitment under the deal,” he said, “the Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
Although he did not pull out of the accord, the president did threaten to walk away from it later if his administration, working with Congress and U.S. allies, cannot eliminate the deal’s “many serious flaws.”
Among the flaws, Trump cited the so-called sunset clauses in the nuclear accord that set expiration dates for some nuclear restrictions against Tehran and said he would work to remove them from the agreement.
“In just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint toward a rapid nuclear weapons breakout,” Trump said. “We got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short-term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.”
“In the event that we cannot reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated…. Our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time,” he asserted.
Under U.S. law, the president is required every 90 days to certify whether Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal.
Trump said that, “based on the factual record, I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification. We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and a very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
To help counter Iran’s actions, Trump said he will call on Congress to strengthen the U.S. law — known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) — which runs alongside the nuclear deal and was passed by Congress in response to the international nuclear agreement.
U.S. officials said Trump would ask lawmakers to set “firm trigger points” related to Iran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs, the crossing of which would immediately and automatically reimpose sanctions against Iran.
The Republican-controlled Congress will have 60 days to consider any amendments to the INARA.
Along with amending the INARA, Trump announced further nonspecific steps as part of his “new strategy to address the full range of Iran’s destructive actions.”
He said the United States will work with allies to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activity” and support for “terrorist proxies,” place additional sanctions on Tehran to block its financing of terror, and address the “regime’s proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors.”
He said he will deny the Iranians “all paths” to a nuclear weapon.
In the 2015 deal, signed during the U.S. presidency of Barack Obama, Tehran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Other signatories to the accord are Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
U.S. officials said any sanctions reimposed under INARA would not necessarily remove the United States from the multilateral nuclear accord.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for certifying the multilateral nuclear deal, disputed Trump’s claim that inspection processes were weak, saying that “at present, Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime.”
IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano insisted that Iran had been implementing its commitments under the agreement.
Mara Karlin, a former senior U.S. Defense Department official involved in policy, strategy, and planning for Middle East affairs under both Democratic and Republican administrations, said Trump’s actions represented “a lot of bluster with not a lot of change.”
“It seems as though we went through this giant hullabaloo, where the president was threatening to tear up this deal, per his political promises throughout the election and afterward,” she told RFE/RL. “And instead what he’s choosing to do is really defer his power to Congress.”
“So the Washington story is this is a diminution of executive power. The Europe story is the European allies have been really put through the ringer for not terribly much,” she added.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Trump’s proposed changes would not remove the United States from the nuclear accord and that he expected to introduce new INARA amendments within two weeks.
He added that he expected one of the amendments to change the certification requirement from every 90 days to every 180 days.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, who voted against the nuclear deal in 2015, said Trump’s plan “doesn’t make sense.”
“Negotiating additional terms to the nuclear deal requires a coalition of international partners, not unilateral congressional action,” said the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Iran must never have a nuclear weapon. To ensure that, we must strictly enforce the nuclear deal, work to lengthen its sunset provisions, and hold Iran’s feet to the fire on the regime’s other bad behavior,” he added.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration was “fatally flawed” and that he supported Trump’s decision to reexamine the accord.
Influential Republican Senator John McCain, often a Trump critic, said in a statement that “the goals President Trump presented in his speech today are a welcomed, long overdue change.”
“For years, the Iranian regime has literally been getting away with murder. Meanwhile, the United States has lacked a comprehensive strategy to meet the multifaceted threat Iran poses,” McCain said.
U.S. allies and other countries also weighed in on Trump’s statement and his threats to the nuclear accord.
European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini called the nuclear deal a “robust agreement” that is working and cannot be terminated by any one leader.
“The president of the United States has many powers. Not this one,” she added.
In a joint statement, the leaders of France, Britain, and Germany warned the United States against making decisions that could harm the nuclear deal.
“We encourage the U.S. administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the [accord], such as reimposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement,” it said.
The statement was signed by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
In a separate statement, Macron said he reassured Rohani that France remained committed to the nuclear deal.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was “extremely troubling” that Trump was raising questions that had been settled when an international deal on Iran’s nuclear program was signed, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Ryabkov also played down the suggestion that changes could be made to the accord, saying, “I have big doubts regarding these proposals,” Interfax reported.
“Adding something to this document now, changing something in it, in my view, would be extremely problematic, to put it mildly,” he added.
Saudi Arabia, a major Middle East rival of the Iranian government, said it supported Trump’s “firm strategy” and “aggressive policy” toward Tehran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the U.S. president’s decision, calling it a “courageous” and “bold” move.