WASHINGTON — Calling Iran’s regime “the leading state sponsor of terror,” President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that the United States was withdrawing from the multinational Iran nuclear accord, delivering on his campaign promise to abandon a pact he has dubbed “the worst deal ever.”
In remarks delivered from the White House’s Diplomatic Room, Trump said the United States would slap “the highest level of economic sanction” on Iran, including penalties that had previously been lifted as part of the 2015 agreement aimed at curbing Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani responded by declaring on state television that Iran was prepared to enrich its uranium supply, used for nuclear weapons, “without limitations.”
Rouhani said Iran would remain in the deal for the time being and continue working with the other countries involved, even as Trump warned in his speech that “any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.” That could potentially affect U.S. allies, including France and Britain, that have advocated for the deal’s preservation.
Trump declared that the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was at its heart “a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program.”
He went on to build his argument for canceling the United States’ involvement. “Since the agreement, Iran’s bloody ambitions have grown only more brazen,” he said, citing as “definitive proof” the intelligence documents that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described on television last week. Those documents, Trump said, gave conclusive proof of “the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.”
The president concluded by currying favor with the “long-suffering people of Iran,” depicting the United States as their ally against the “dictatorship” that seized power in the country nearly 40 years ago and “took a proud nation hostage.”
“The people of America stand with you,” Trump said.
Trump also used the occasion to announce that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to North Korea in advance of Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump’s claims about Iran’s nuclear weapons activities came despite other senior administration officials testifying before lawmakers in recent months that Iran has complied with the provisions of the deal.
Over the past two weeks, a parade of European leaders has tried to dissuade Trump from ripping up one of the crowning diplomatic achievements of the Obama administration. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both visited the White House to twist the president’s arm, and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appeared on “Fox & Friends” to try to gain Trump’s ear.
Immediately after Trump’s presentation on Tuesday, Macron tweeted: “France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA. The nuclear nonproliferation regime is at stake.”
Obama, in a statement, called Trump’s withdrawal “a serious mistake,” one that “turns our back on America’s closest allies.” He noted that the pact was one that “our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated.”
The deal, signed in July 2015, includes Iran, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia. In it, Iran agreed to dramatically scale down its nuclear program — by exporting 98 percent of its enriched uranium, among other measures — in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Iran also agreed to submit to routine inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But Trump has long maintained that the deal did not go far enough to block Iran from testing long-range ballistic missiles, one of which was tested just days after he was sworn into office. He also opposed the 15-year cap on key elements of the deal, arguing that Iran should be barred from developing nuclear weapons indefinitely.
“The deal’s sunset provisions are totally unacceptable,” Trump said Tuesday. “If I allowed this deal to stand, there would soon be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Everyone would want their weapons ready by the time Iran had theirs.”
Macron, Merkel and other allies urged Trump to remain in the deal while the partner nations worked on a new one. They argued that the United States’ withdrawal could kill the entire accord, giving Iran free rein to keep building its arsenal.
Trump on Tuesday said he was “ready, willing, and able” to negotiate a new deal with Iran, but only if Iranian leaders came forward with a plan “that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.”
John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, speaking to reporters at the White House after Trump’s speech, said the administration would continue “talking to the Europeans and others who are affected by this about how we carry this forward.”
“It’s not just the Europeans, as the president said,” Bolton told the media. “We’ve got many people in the Middle East who are very concerned about the Iran nuclear weapons program, they’ll be involved in the discussions too.”
Bolton said the economic sanctions against Iran would “establish positions of strength for the United States” and send “a very clear signal that the United States will not accept inadequate deals.”
Under the sanctions, corporations currently doing business in Iran will have between 90 and 180 days to wind down their operations. Activities subject to the sanctions include transactions with Iran’s state-run bank and imports of Iranian carpets and food products, according to a list provided by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Rouhani, in remarks delivered in Tehran on Tuesday before Trump’s speech, appeared to anticipate the sanctions. “It is possible that we will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this,” he said, according to media reports.
Rouhani, speaking at a petroleum conference, said Iran would nevertheless continue “working with the world and constructive engagement with the world.”