Trump Expected to Keep Sanctions Relief for Iran but May Add Penalties

U.S. President Trump is expected to agree this week to continue granting Iran a reprieve from sanctions over its nuclear program, while again signaling his displeasure with the international nuclear deal that lifted the penalties, U.S. and European officials, congressional aides and others said, The Washington Post reports.

He also is expected to announce new sanctions linked to human rights and other issues that would not directly affect the nuclear agreement but would ­underscore U.S. concerns about Iran’s response to recent anti-government protests and other actions, officials and others said.

The decision keeps the United States in the Iran deal, at least for the time being, despite Trump’s suggestion last year that he was inclined to walk away from it. Most of Trump’s national security advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have urged him to waive the sanctions again.

Had Trump decided to reimpose nuclear sanctions that the Obama administration suspended almost two years ago to the day, the U.S. would have reneged on its commitment under the deal and isolated itself from allies that have insisted they will stick with it. It could also have emboldened Iranian hard-liners and turned Washington into an adversary they could blame for internal disruptions, said John Glaser, head of foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

“It would be insulting if the United States and its leaders would try to take credit for the protests or superimpose them onto our own political, domestic issues here,” he said.

The political unrest, which rocked the clerical and political establishment, spread amid deep disappointment that sanctions relief provided by the nuclear deal has not trickled down economically to ordinary Iranians. Some analysts say that the United States would be seen as turning its back on the protesters and their economic demands if it reimposes broad economic sanctions.

“Instead, any additional sanctions imposed now or in coming weeks would probably target the government or military elite, and not the wider Iranian economy,” two officials said.

The president faces deadlines beginning Friday to approve the continued relief from sanctions, Iran’s main benefit from the landmark 2015 agreement that Trump has called the “worst deal” imaginable for the U.S. He also faces another deadline to tell Congress whether he will “certify” that Iran is complying with the deal and that it is serving the interest of the United States.

Trump is being urged by some top advisers not to bring back U.S. economic sanctions on Iran this week, a move by the president that would effectively end a 2015 deal to limit Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. But Trump, who has previously vowed to scrap the nuclear pact, is privately expressing reluctance to heed the advisers, the officials said.

Trump will seek to make a final decision on the sanctions during a meeting with national security aides on Thursday, the senior officials said. If Trump did waive the sanctions, one official said, the administration would nevertheless impose new, targeted measure on Iranian businesses and people. A third U.S. official said Trump was expected by some officials to renew the sanctions waivers but stressed that no final decision had been made.

The first official said a decision not to waive the sanctions would leave the United States in violation of the agreement.

“You either waive the sanctions or you don’t and if you don’t you’re in breach of the JCPOA,” the official said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker has been working on amending a U.S. law to include “trigger points” that if crossed by Iran would automatically bring back U.S. sanctions. Corker told Reuters that if Trump does not listen to his team, and pulls the United States out, there is no point in pursuing the legislation.

“But most of the general view around him, with his team, with all of his foreign policy leaders, his cabinet members, is I think hoping that he’ll continue to waive sanctions and to try to support what his team has been working with us on for eight or nine months,” Corker said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat said Wednesday that he and the committee’s chairman are not close to an agreement on Iran legislation as a deadline approaches for President Trump to kill the nuclear deal or keep it afloat.

“We’ve had very positive discussions, but no, we have not. Someone asked me, ‘Would you consider it a framework of issues?’ and I said, ‘That’s accurate.’ We know what areas we have to deal with, but there’s not been language that has been even shopped at this stage,” Senator Ben Cardin told reporters when asked if he and committee Chairman Bob Corker have come to an understanding on the terms of the legislation.

Corker has been touting progress on the bill, though he’s said there will be no concrete product by this week’s deadline. Cardin on Wednesday said he was not contradicting Corker, but that he thinks the progress has more been with European allies.

“I don’t mean to contradict my chairman because the two of us are almost always on the same page. I really think it’s more the Europeans meeting with the White House than it is any of us,” Cardin said.

Cardin added that the need for more work on the bill is a reason Trump should not reimpose sanctions Friday.

“I made it clear to the White House that we still have work to do and that’s why Friday or next week is not a realistic time. We’ve got to go to our caucuses. I’ve got to bring in other committees. There’s a lot of work to be done in the process, and we’re not near that. I think the administration and advisers have operated in good faith in trying to get something moving, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

Cardin said he does not know what Trump will do Friday, but that he “can’t comprehend” why Trump wouldn’t continue waiving sanctions.

“I can’t comprehend any reason why the president would not sign the waiver on Friday,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of our national security to sign that waiver, so to me, this should be a very simple decision. He can pull out of the Iran agreement on any day he wants to. He doesn’t need a deadline to pull out of the agreement. So nothing is gained, lots is lost if the president doesn’t sign the waiver.”