President Trump has announced that he will continue to waive nuclear-related sanctions toward Iran despite his misgivings about the multi-party agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or commonly known as the Iran nuclear agreement) and Iran’s continued support for international terrorism, its human rights abuses and its continuing censorship at home. In a White House statement, the president indicated that “I have been very clear about my opinion of that deal. It gave Iran far too much in exchange for far too little.” He added, “Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.”* He then briefly identified his conditions for either fixing the agreement or ultimately withdrawing from the JCPOA.
While President Trump will continue to work with Congress on legislation regarding Iran, he indicated that it must have four “critical components”: (1) Iran must allow immediate inspections of potential nuclear sites; (2) Iran can never possess a nuclear weapon; (3) there must be no expiration date prohibiting Iran’s efforts to develop or acquire nuclear weapons under any deal; and (4) Iran’s long-range missile capabilities are inseparable from Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and will also be subject to severe sanctions. In closing, the president stated:
“Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies’ agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal. This is a last chance. In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately. No one should doubt my word. I said I would not certify the nuclear deal—and I did not. I will also follow through on this pledge. I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people. If other nations fail to act during this time, I will terminate our deal with Iran. Those who, for whatever reason, choose not to work with us will be siding with the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, and against the people of Iran and the peaceful nations of the world.”
In a later press briefing, White House officials stated that the administration intends to work with European allies for a follow-on agreement that puts in place certain triggers that Iran could not exceed. They stressed that this “would not entail direct negotiations with the Iranians, [sic] this would be something the United States works out with our European partners only. It would be an agreement amongst the United States and our European partners to re-impose multilateral sanctions should the Iranians surpass the new triggers that we would lay out.”
* Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, implemented in 2015 at the time of the JCPOA, the president must certify to Congress every 90 days that the suspension of sanctions under the nuclear agreement is warranted and that Iran remains in compliance with its obligations to terminate its illicit nuclear weapons program. In July 2017, Trump reluctantly certified that Iran was in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA (see Trump and Trade Alert of July 18, 2017); however, in October 2017, the president declined to certify that Iran was in compliance with the agreement (see Trump and Trade Alert of October 13, 2017).