Nuke Deal Hangs in Balance as Trump Plans Iran Policy Speech

U.S. officials say President Donald Trump will likely deliver an Iran policy speech next week in which he is expected to declare the landmark 2015 agreement contrary to America’s national security interests, just days ahead of the October 15 deadline to certify the nuclear deal with global powers.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, on October 4 said the White House has tentatively scheduled the speech for October 12 at an as yet undetermined venue in Washington, RFERL reports.

They cautioned that plans could still change, and the White House declined to comment on the timing or substance of Trump’s pending announcement. But many of his top national security aides don’t want to dismantle the deal, and America’s European allies have lobbied the Trump administration heavily not to walk away from the agreement.

“We’re going to give him a couple of options of how to move forward to advance the important policy toward Iran,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday.

He said the Iran deal comprised “only a small part” of the government’s approach to Iran, a traditional U.S. adversary in the Middle East that Washington considers the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

The Iran deal’s future may hinge on a face-saving fix for Trump so he doesn’t have to recertify the Islamic republic’s compliance every 90 days, as mandated in a provision of a 2015 U.S. law known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

This is complicated by the fact that Iran’s leaders have said failure to recertify would kill the agreement. Plus the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with inspecting nuclear facilities in Iran, says that Tehran is in full compliance with the agreement.

There’s another complication, too. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Armed Services Commitee Tuesday that Iran “is not in material breach of the agreement.”

However, Trump and other officials, including Tillerson, have said Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement because of its testing of ballistic missiles, threats to U.S. allies in the Middle East, and support for U.S.-designated terrorist organizations and Syria’s government.

For U.S. officials involved in the decision-making process, the focus on finding a way for Trump to avoid anything looking like approval for the accord has become a source of frustration. Various options are in play to resolve the problem, but none are clean solutions, according to officials.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis broke this week from his boss’s assessment of the agreement as a “disaster” and said he believes staying with it meshes with U.S. interests. He hinted his boss may try to decertify without breaking the deal.

“You can talk about the conditions under one of those, and not walk away from the other,” he said.

As a possible solution, officials said the administration could send the question of sanctions back to Congress. But if lawmakers pass new economic penalties on Iran, the same risk to the overall deal applies.