BFF-03 Trump decision looms over Iran deal as Europe watches

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Trump decision looms over Iran deal as Europe watches

WASHINGTON, Jan 12, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – US President Donald Trump met his
national security team Thursday to decide whether to put the 2015 Iran
nuclear deal at risk by re-imposing American sanctions — a deal that
European leaders say is working just fine.

Washington agreed to sanctions relief under the terms of the landmark
agreement reached between Tehran and six world powers — an accord Trump has
denounced as one of the worst of all time.

US officials expect Trump to grudgingly sign the sanction waivers once
again before they start to expire this weekend — though he is also likely to
impose new sanctions on Tehran over non-nuclear issues.

But the angst in Berlin, Brussels, London and Paris underlined what is at
stake: the mercurial US president is quite capable of sabotaging the
agreement.

America’s allies see the accord as the best way of thwarting Iran’s quest
for nuclear arms and a victory for multilateral diplomacy. Tehran
categorically denies it is seeking to develop atomic weapons.

But Trump argues his predecessor Barack Obama gave away too much to Iran in
sanctions relief, without forcing the Islamic republic to end its ballistic
missile program and aggressive support for militant groups.

“The president still strongly believes this is one of the worst deals of
all time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters as Trump’s
meeting started.

“One of the single greatest flaws is its restrictions leave Iran free …
to openly develop their nuclear program and rapidly achieve a nuclear weapons
breakout capability.

Sanders did not say when an announcement would be made. State Department
officials initially suggested it could come as early as Thursday, but later
said it would not happen before Friday.

– Sanctions relief –

Trump has already declared that he thinks the Iran nuclear deal is no
longer in the United States’ national interest.

By thus “decertifying” the arrangement, he opened a window for the US
Congress to reimpose sanctions, but to date, it has not done so — leaving
the issue of the waivers.

So far, Trump has continued to follow Obama’s lead in regularly signing
sanctions waivers so that US economic measures against Tehran do not “snap
back.”

The deadlines for a number of these waivers to be renewed will fall over
the coming week, and Trump now is obliged to decide whether or not to
maintain sanctions relief.

If he does allow the punitive measures to go back into effect, Iran will
accuse the United States of breaking the deal, under which Tehran accepted
restrictions on its nuclear program.

European capitals will also be dismayed, having pressed Washington to
accept that the deal was an international agreement and that Iran has abided
by its terms.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Trump on Thursday and stressed
France’s determination to see “the strict application of the deal and the
importance of all the signatories to respect it.”

The White House said Trump had “underscored that Iran must stop its
destabilizing activity in the region.”

In any event, the White House is likely to impose new sanctions on Iran
targeting human right abuses and support for foreign extremist groups rather
than nuclear back-sliding.

“I think you can expect there will be more sanctions coming up,” Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters on Thursday.

– Arms race –

In Brussels, the European Union and the foreign ministers of Britain,
Germany and France presented a united front after talks with Iranian Foreign
Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“The deal is working, it is delivering on its main goal which means
keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check,” EU foreign policy chief
Federica Mogherini said.

The agreement, she said, is “making the world safer and… preventing a
potential nuclear arms race in the region.”

UN inspectors have certified Iran’s compliance with the deal nine times,
most recently in November.

Iran has said that if the US walks away from the agreement, it is ready to
give an “appropriate and heavy response.”

Zarif took to Twitter after the Brussels meeting to warn that “Iran’s
continued compliance (is) conditioned on full compliance by the US.”

The Iranian said there was a “strong consensus in Brussels today” that
Iran was complying with the deal and that “any move that undermines (the
agreement) is unacceptable.” One of the criticisms levelled at the nuclear
deal is that it does nothing to address Iran’s continuing ballistic missile
program and involvement in conflicts such as Yemen and Syria.

Europeans say these issues should be kept separate from discussion of the
deal, but in a nod to US concerns, Mogherini stressed they were raised with
Zarif on Thursday.

BSS/RY/08:10 hrs