The Iran Deal’s Days May Be Numbered. Here’s Trump’s Likely Next Move

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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President Donald Trump hinted before the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that a tough U.S. stance on the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal is likely to materialize in the coming month.

Trump assailed the agreement during his address, calling it an “embarrassment to the United States” and ominously adding “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it — believe me.” The president followed up his remarks by telling reporters Wednesday that he has made up his mind on the future of the deal, and will reveal it in due time.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also appeared to preview a move Tuesday, telling Fox News “if we’re going to stick with the Iran deal there has to be changes made to it.”

The main objection of the Trump administration is to the deal’s “sunset clause” — the lack of mechanism to deal with Iran’s ballistic missile testing — and its support of violent terrorist organizations across the Middle East. The sunset clause is the eclipse of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear agreements in the 10-15 year period, which would allow it to develop nuclear weapons without any international penalties.

Critics of the deal say the sunset clause simply delays an inevitable confrontation with the revolutionary regime while providing it with economic access to the international system. Proponents of the deal say that Iran’s entry into the international system will normalize it in the coming years, tampering its behavior.

Trump has several options going forward: he could exit the U.S. from the Iran deal framework altogether, mount a renegotiation campaign, or decertify Iran’s compliance during a mandatory reporting period to Congress in October. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley previewed Trump’s most likely course of action in a speech before the American Enterprise Institute in early September.

Decertification of Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal would not necessarily pull the U.S. out of the framework, but would galvanize congressional review of Iranian behavior and spark a new possible round of sanctions on the regime. The law requiring Trump’s certification “asks the President to certify that the suspension of sanctions against Iran is appropriate and proportionate to Iran’s nuclear measures, and that it is vital to the national security interests of the United States,” Haley said in her speech.

Within this consideration Haley laid out a litany of considerations that the administration will use to determine Iranian compliance along with its technical compliance with the nuclear agreement, saying:

We must consider the regime’s repeated, demonstrated hostility toward the United States. We must consider its history of deception about its nuclear program. We must consider its ongoing development of ballistic missile technology. And we must consider the day when the terms of the JCPOA sunset. That’s a day when Iran’s military may very well already have the missile technology to send a nuclear warhead to the United States – a technology that North Korea only recently developed.

Trump may decertify Iran’s compliance within this framework, giving him potential leverage on the regime to try and negotiate the deal or face crippling U.S. economic sanctions. Decertification of the deal would trigger a two-month period of review by Congress and a possible effort by the Trump administration to convince other parties to the nuclear agreement to try and impose further restrictions on Iran.

Trump may find this effort to be an uphill battle. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pledged that the country will not participate in any renegotiation, and vowed to “respond decisively and resolutely” to any violation of the agreement. The regime has indicated that it views any additional sanctions as violations of the deal.

Russia and China have similarly said they have no interest in renegotiating the deal and European diplomats are urging the White House not to decertify the deal, warning it could trigger a war.

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