EghtesadOnline: President Donald Trump’s administration said Iran is complying with the deal to curb its nuclear program, even as White House officials argued that the Islamic Republic continues to engage in actions that destabilize the Middle East and isn’t living up to the spirit of the pact.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was to deliver a report to Congress, required by law every 90 days, that says Iran has met the conditions laid out in the 2015 agreement with the U.S. and five other major powers, according to three officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity Monday night. But they said the U.S. will seek to punish Iran for malevolent behavior outside of the nuclear pact, including its support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and its continuing development of ballistic missiles, according to Bloomberg.
The finding that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement comes as the White House is conducting a broader review of U.S. policy toward the Iran. At the same time, U.S. allies in the Gulf are engaged in a diplomatic spat and Congress is considering legislation to toughen non-nuclear sanctions against Iran.
Monday’s decision reflected the difficult position in which the administration finds itself over the deal. Trump frequently criticizes the accord, but his administration has said repeatedly it’s waiting for the results of the Iran policy review and so far hasn’t been willing to go against the other countries, including Germany and France, that helped forge the deal and strongly support it. In the meantime, companies from Total SA to Boeing Co. have begun signing major deals with Iranian companies as the country’s market opens up.
The certification decision became even more politically charged with the announcement that Iran had sentenced 37-year-old Xiyue Wang, who has both U.S. and Chinese citizenship, to 10 years in jail for allegedly “infiltrating” the country. Wang is a graduate student at Princeton University and was arrested while researching his doctorate dissertation.
Iran, while complying with the technical conditions of the pact, is violating the spirit of the agreement by further undermining regional stability, one of the officials said, and Trump and Tillerson both plan to emphasize that Iran remains a threat to the U.S. and its allies. The administration’s strategy is now focused on enforcing the deal more strictly and convincing other nations that forged the deal of its flaws, with the possible goal of renegotiating it.
One of the officials on the call with reporters said the administration would work closely with allies to build a case that the deal has serious flaws.
“You all know that the president has made very clear that he thought this was a bad deal -- a bad deal for the United States,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday, before the certification was announced. “I think he’s been very consistent with the fact that he thought it was a bad deal.”
Under the international agreement, Iran is allowed to enrich and store some uranium for energy production, although it had to reduce its uranium stockpile by 96 percent, idle many of its enrichment centrifuges and pour concrete into its heavy water nuclear reactor. The Obama administration insisted the provisions would slow the time it would take Iran to produce nuclear weapons.
Opponents of the nuclear agreement have called for renegotiating the accord with the goal of making permanent its 15-year moratorium on uranium enrichment close to the level needed to make a bomb. Reimposing sanctions that were explicitly tied to Iran’s nuclear program would face particular opposition from European allies and give the government in Tehran grounds to walk away from the accord.
Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the country’s vow not to seek nuclear weapons “never expires.”
“Iran is committed to not producing nuclear weapons,” Zarif said Monday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “Nuclear weapons do not augment anybody’s security.”
In April, Trump ordered his National Security Council to review whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions that were eased under the 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration. In the months since, Trump has continued to honor the nuclear deal, while supporting instead new sanctions aimed at Iran’s program to develop ballistic missiles. The Trump administration has also condemned Tehran’s human rights record and its support for the Assad regime.
In a briefing after the administration certified Iran’s compliance in April, Tillerson said the nuclear deal “represents the same failed approach of the past.” He said the administration was seeking to determine whether the decision to suspend sanctions “is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
In his briefing Monday, Spicer suggested the administration might change course after the review is completed.
‘Time Is Up’
“Initially he recertified it because he had the luxury of having an entire team here, both from State, DOD, NSC, to review it,” Spicer said, referring to the Department of Defense and the National Security Council. “That time is up, and State will make its announcement very shortly.”
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly called the nuclear deal one of the worst agreements in history, ands pledged to dismantle or renegotiate it as president.
Other countries involved in implementing the deal have continued to support it, and the lifting of European sanctions against Iran has allowed new business deals to go forward. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the group responsible for monitoring compliance, has found that Iran has largely complied with its obligations under the deal.
A $1 billion natural gas bet by Total, signed this month, marked the first investment in Iran by an international energy company since the nuclear accord. In June, Iran’s Aseman Airlines signed a $3 billion contract with Boeing for 30 737 Max jets and an option for 30 more.
Congress is considering new sanctions to punish Iran over its ballistic missile program. The sanctions measure, S. 722, passed the Senate last month in an overwhelming 98-2 vote, in an effort to punish Iran.
The sanctions legislation has been stalled in the House due to concerns over Russia sanctions that are also included in the bill amid the dispute over Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in that effort.