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.”
Iran nuclear deal explained
What is the Iran nuclear deal?
Formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal was negotiated and entered into by Iran, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia in July 2015 with the aim of reducing Iran’s ability to develop a mass nuclear weapons program. Iran agreed to dramatically scale down its nuclear program — including shipping out 98 percent of its enriched uranium — in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Iran also agreed to submit to routine inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure it was abiding by the deal.
Why is Trump opposed to the deal?
As a candidate for president, Donald Trump campaigned against the deal negotiated in part by the Obama administration, arguing that it was “the worst deal ever,” and “weak.” Trump has stated that he believes the deal did not go far enough in stopping Iran from testing long-range ballistic missiles. Administration officials have also said that elements of the deal that block Iran from developing its nuclear weapons program for at least 15 years should have sought instead to permanently ban the development of a nuclear program.
Why do European allies support the deal?
European allies, including France, Britain and German, all rallied in recent weeks to persuade Trump to remain in the deal, arguing that the United States’ withdrawal could lead the multinational deal to collapse altogether. French President Emmanuel Macron has said while the deal has its flaws, the nations should work to address those concerns while still keeping the existing agreement in place. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that “of all the options we have for ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, this pact offers the fewest disadvantages.”
Excerpts from President Trump’s speech:
“The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror. It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terrorist proxies and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”
“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program.”
“The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”
“In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction. Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.”
“America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail. We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. And we will not allow a regime that chants “Death to America” to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.”
“Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. They refuse, and that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is, they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.”
Activities that will be sanctioned starting Aug. 6, after the 90-wind-down period, include:
•Purchases of U.S. dollar banknotes by Iran
•Iran’s trade in gold or precious metals
•Sales or transfers of graphite, aluminum and steel, coal, and software for integrating industrial processes
•Purchases of Iranian rials
•Purchases of Iranian sovereign debt
•Iran’s automotive sector
•Imports of Iranian carpets and foodstuffs
•Exports or re-exports of commercial passenger aircraft
Activities that will be sanctioned starting Nov. 4, after the 180-day wind-down period, include:
•Iran’s port operators, and transactions with shipping and shipbuilding sectors
•Purchases of petroleum, petroleum products, or petrochemical products from Iran
•Transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran and designated Iranian financial institutions under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012
•Specialized financial messaging services to the Central Bank of Iran and Iranian financial institutions
•Underwriting services, insurance, or reinsurance
•Iran’s energy sector.
•Persons removed from the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons and/or other lists maintained by the U.S. government on January 16, 2016
Source: U.S. Treasury Department