President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that the United States would pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, undoing his predecessor’s most important foreign-policy action and setting up a high-stakes showdown in the Middle East.
The president signed an order reimposing U.S. sanctions that had been in place before the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), negotiated by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. The deal was not reviewed by the Senate because it was not negotiated as a treaty.
Most Democrats and America’s overseas allies urged Trump to stick with the framework signed in 2015. In that deal, Iran promised to put its nuclear weapons program on hold for a decade in exchange for lifting sanctions and returning assets that had been frozen since the Islamic regime came to power in 1979 and was implicated in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran; it also held 52 Americans hostage until President Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981.
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“In theory, the so-called Iran deal was supposed to protect the United States and our allies from the lunacy of an Iranian nuclear bomb, a weapon that will only endanger the survival of the Iranian regime,” Trump said. “In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and over time reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.”
The president said the deal did nothing to address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its sponsorship of terrorism throughout the Middle East. He said that at a point of “maximum leverage,” Obama signed onto an agreement that imposed “very weak limits” on the country’s nuclear program and no limits at all on other malicious activity.
Trump added that it was “a great embarrassment to me as a citizen” and to all Americans.
“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction — that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program,” he said. “Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.”
The president did not detail that proof but referenced a presentation made last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlining intelligence evidence that Iran had a sophisticated and involved effort to develop five nuclear weapons at the time it agreed to the deal.
But the administration’s national security officials have testified to Congress that they have no evidence that Iran is violating the terms of the deal — a fact seized on Tuesday by the president’s critics.
“By walking away from the JCPOA, Trump makes it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons. He is creating this crisis. Now, we all have to face the consequences,” Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.) tweeted.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted that Trump’s decision undermines the country’s credibility.
“The Obama Administration negotiated a landmark agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” she wrote. “@realDonaldTrump’s decision to withdraw from the deal breaks our word, hurts our credibility with our allies, empowers Iranian hardliners, and doesn’t make us any safer.”
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But national security adviser John Bolton told reporters after Trump’s speech that it is a misnomer to call Iran compliant. He said the enforcement provisions of the deal were too weak for the United States to verify compliance.
And on some points, Bolton said, Iran explicitly has violated the deal. As an example, he cited the country’s production of heavy water, which he characterized as exceeding the limits of the agreement.
Although European countries are not presently expected to join the U. S. in reimposing sanctions, their companies could be subject to penalties here if they do business in Iran.
“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.”
“Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States,” Trump said. “America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail.”
Bolton told reporters that the sanctions prohibit companies from making any new deals. He said the Department of Treasury would publish “wind-down” details governing existing contracts. Those wind-down terms would take effect on varying schedules, ranging from weeks to months.
Bolton said Trump held off for more than a year in delivering on a key campaign promise in order to give U.S. allies and Iran an opportunity to renegotiate the deal.
“The government of Iran had no interest in changing this deal,” he said. “And why should they? It was an excellent deal” for Iran.
European leaders expressed regret. “The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake,” tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron, who lobbied Trump to stay in the deal.
But by Trump’s action, he has found a more receptive audience among Iran’s enemies in the Middle East. Netanyahu had publicly urged Trump to withdraw and in an appearance on Israeli TV Tuesday night praised his “courageous leadership” in scrapping a “disastrous nuclear deal.”
Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, expressed support for Trump on Tuesday.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia fully supports the measures taken by @POTUS with regards to the JCPOA,” he tweeted. “We always had reservations with regards to sunset clauses, ballistic missiles program, and Iran’s support for terrorism in the region.”
Republicans leaders in Congress also generally supported Tuesday’s move.
“The president’s announcement today is a strong statement that we can and must do better,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement. “I have always believe the best course of action is to fix deficiencies in the agreement … The president is right to insist that we hold Iran accountable both today and for the long term.”