The Trump administration on Monday certified that Iran is technically in compliance with an agreement to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but warned that Tehran will likely face punishment for violating “the spirit” of the deal.
Department of State review of Iran’s behavior over the last three months found that Tehran is fulfilling the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran, and several world powers.
Under an arrangement Obama worked out with Congress during JCPOA negotiations, the executive must certify Iranian compliance with the terms of the deal every 90 days. If the administration finds that Terhan has failed to meet its obligations, it can restore the sanctions that were lifted by the agreement.
After a day of second-guessing that pushed the decision to certify right up to a midnight deadline, U.S. officials formally announced that Iran will continue receive sanctions relief as outlined under the terms of the deal, the Associated Press reports.
On a conference call with reporters late Monday night, U.S. officials said President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and “the entire administration judge that Iran is unquestionably in default of the spirit” of the agreement. That condemnation carries no legal force, however, and the decision to certify Iran’s compliance means the JCPOA framework will remain in place at least until the next review deadline.
Going forward, the administration will now seek to enlist U.S. allies to help fix what it sees as the deal’s flaws, reports the AP. Officials also said the U.S. would hit Tehran with fresh sanctions as punishment for developing ballistic missiles.
Many top Republicans blasted JCPOA when it went into force under Obama and recently urged Trump to either renegotiate the terms of the deal or withdraw from it altogether. GOP Sens. Tom Cotton, David Perdue, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio sent a letter to Tillerson on Tuesday, asking him to say that Iran is not in compliance and that lifting sanctions does not serve national security interests. The senators pointed to several alleged violations, including Iran’s denial of access to nuclear-research facilities and maintenance of heavy-water stocks needed to weaponize plutonium.
Leading up to Monday’s deadline, a contentious debate had emerged within the White House about how to proceed on JCPOA. Opponents urged Trump to pull out of the deal to send Tehran a message over its continued support for terrorist groups. Some cabinet secretaries and foreign affairs officials countered that a unilateral withdrawal would be unworkable because China, Russia and European allies were also party to the agreement. (RELATED: Retired Generals Urge Trump To Maintain Iran Nuclear Deal)
Trump himself has railed against JCPOA during the campaign and since taking office, calling it a “disastrous” giveaway that will end up funding terrorism. Despite the president’s criticism, the administration certified Tehran’s compliance in April and said it would keep the deal in place while awaiting the outcome of a more comprehensive Iran policy review. A senior administration official said the review should be completed before the next certification deadline in October, The Washington Post reported.
Inside the White House and within Capitol Hill, there is a bipartisan consensus that Iran is seeking to expand its regional influence through proxies in Iraq and Syria while directly supporting designated terrorist groups including Hezbollah and Hamas. Those actions are not covered under JCPOA, which addresses only Tehran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
Many White House officials have argued that Iran should be punished for its support of terrorism and development of missile technology in addition to its nuclear activities. Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, on the other hand, have thus far convinced Trump that any action taken against Tehran under the auspices of JCPOA should be tied to the regime’s nuclear-related activity only, not its support for terrorism.
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