President Trump will announce Friday afternoon a new strategy toward Iran, decertifying Iran’s compliance in the nuclear agreement but stopping short of ending the deal, instead giving Congress 60 days to decide on a new course.
In an address to the nation, the president also will order the Treasury Department to sanction Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps over its support of terrorism in the Middle East.
Mr. Trump, who has called the 2015 agreement signed by President Obama a “horrible” deal and threatened to rip it up, instead has decided reluctantly to try to beef up the restrictions on Tehran by going to Congress. His action will have no immediate impact on the six-nation agreement that calls for Iran to submit to international nuclear inspectors in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions.
“This is purely an internal domestic decision,” said Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.
Mr. Tillerson said Mr. Trump faced a choice of walking away from the international accord or trying to strengthen it through unilateral domestic action.
“He’s saying we’ll try,” Mr. Tillerson said. “I think you’re going to hear he’s not particularly optimistic.”
Mr. Tillerson said the administration considers the nuclear deal “weak” because it doesn’t address Iran’s support of terrorism, and its provisions against Tehran working on nuclear weapons phase out within 15 years.
The new strategy for Iran approved by the president “is the culmination of nine months of deliberation with Congress and our allies on how to best protect American security,” according to the White House.
The plan focuses on “neutralizing the government of Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants,” the White House said.
“We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region,” stated a fact sheet from the administration. “We will work to deny the Iranian regime – and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people.
We will counter threats to the United States and our allies from ballistic missiles and other asymmetric weapons.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and a vocal critic of the Iran deal, said he and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee have crafted legislation with the White House to address the president’s concerns.
“Lawmakers need to do now what we couldn’t do two years ago: unite around an Iran strategy that truly stops Iran’s nuclear weapons program and empowers the United States and our allies to combat the full spectrum of Iran’s imperial aggression,” Mr. Cotton said. “The legislation Senator Corker and I have been working on with the administration will address the major flaws in the original Iran deal: the sunset clauses, the weak inspections regime, and the failure to restrict Iran’s development of advanced centrifuges. And it will create time and leverage for firm diplomacy — together with our allies — to work and neutralize the threat of a nuclear Iran permanently.”
Russia, which is a party to the international accord, said Friday that abandoning the deal could “seriously aggravate the situation.”
Mr. Trump’s speech from the White House will outline specific faults he finds in the pact but will also focus on an array of Iran’s troubling non-nuclear activities, four officials and advisers said. Those include Tehran’s ballistic missile program, support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and other groups that destabilize the region, including in Yemen.
Under U.S. law, Mr. Trump faces a Sunday deadline to notify Congress whether Iran is complying with the accord that was negotiated over 18 months by the Obama administration and determine if it remains a national security priority. Although he will allow that Iran is living up to the letter of the agreement, he will make the case that the deal is fatally flawed and that its non-nuclear behavior violates the spirit of the regional stability it was intended to encourage, the officials and advisers said.
He will instead urge lawmakers to codify tough new requirements for Tehran to continue to benefit from the sanctions relief that it won in exchange for curbing its atomic program.
And he’ll announce his long-anticipated intent to impose sanctions on portions of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps by designating them terrorist organization under an existing executive order, according to the officials and advisers.
“The reckless behavior of the Iranian regime, and the IRGC in particular, poses one of the most dangerous threats to the interests of the United States and to regional stability,” the White House said in a statement released ahead of the speech. The statement, which did not reveal Trump’s decision, denounced the Obama administration for its “myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities” and said the same “mistakes” would not be repeated.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.
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