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Trump’s Anti-JCPOA Rhetoric a Desperate Attempt

“The Islamic Republic of Iran stresses clearly that it will take no measures beyond its commitments under the JCPOA and will accept no changes to this agreement now or in the future and will not allow that the JCPOA be linked to any other issue”
Mohammad Javad ZarifMohammad Javad Zarif

Iran's top diplomat said US President Donald Trump's renewed ultimatum to congress and European allies to fix what he calls shortcomings in the Iran nuclear deal reflects desperation in rallying support for his hawkish stance against Iran.

Trump gave the Iran nuclear deal a final reprieve on Friday but warned European allies and the US Congress they had to work with him to fix "the disastrous flaws" in the pact or face a US exit.

"Trump's policy and today's announcement amount to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement, maliciously violating its paragraphs 26, 28 and 29," Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted in response to Trump's statement.

Trump said he would waive sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the international deal for the last time unless his conditions were met.

The ultimatum puts pressure on Europeans—key backers and parties to the 2015 international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program—to satisfy Trump, who wants the pact strengthened with a separate agreement within 120 days.

"Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal," Trump said in a statement. "Instead, I have outlined two possible paths forward: either fix the deal's disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw."

***No Room for Renegotiation   

In his Twitter message, Zarif ruled out a renegotiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the deal is officially known.

"JCPOA is not renegotiable: rather than repeating tired rhetoric, US must bring itself into full compliance—just like Iran," he said.

That position was reasserted in a Foreign Ministry statement carried by IRNA on Saturday.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran stresses clearly that it will take no measures beyond its commitments under the JCPOA and will accept no changes to this agreement now or in the future and will not allow that the JCPOA be linked to any other issue [than the nuclear issue]," the ministry said.

"The internal solidity of and international support for the agreement have blocked attempts by Mr. Trump, the Zionist regime [of Israel] and the ominous alliance of hard-line warmongers to terminate this agreement or make changes to it," statement added.

Trump, who has sharply criticized the deal reached during Democrat Barack Obama's presidency in July 2015, had privately chafed at having to once again waive sanctions on a country he sees as a rising threat to the US interests in the Middle East.

"This is a last chance," Trump said, pushing for a separate agreement. "In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately."

The EU said in a statement it had taken note of Trump's decision and would assess its implications, Reuters reported.

While Trump approved the sanctions waiver, the US Treasury Department announced new, targeted sanctions against 14 entities and people, including the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani.

Trump now will work with European partners on a follow-on agreement that enshrines certain triggers that the Iranian government cannot exceed related to ballistic missiles, said senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the decision.

One senior administration official said Trump would be open to remaining in a modified deal if it were made permanent.

"I hereby call on key European countries to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering [alleged] Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people," Trump said in the statement.

***Progress on Legislative Fix

Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said "significant progress" had been made on bipartisan congressional legislation to "address the flaws in the agreement without violating US commitments."

Trump laid out several conditions to keep the United States in the deal. Iran must allow "immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors," he said, and "sunset" provisions imposing limits on Iran's nuclear program must not expire.

Trump said US law must tie long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs together, making any missile testing by Iran subject to "severe sanctions".

The US president wants congress to modify a law that reviews US participation in the nuclear deal to include "trigger points" that, if violated, would lead to the United States reimposing its sanctions, the official said.

This would not entail negotiations with Iran, the official said, but rather would be the result of talks between the United States and its European allies. Work already has begun on this front, the official said.

Richard Nephew, a former White House and State Department Iran sanctions expert, said legislation could be drafted that might appear to assuage Trump's concerns, but that getting Iran to agree to allow unfettered international inspections or to no time limits on the nuclear deal's restrictions was impossible.

Trump has argued behind the scenes that the nuclear deal makes the United States look weak, a senior US official said.

A decision to withhold a waiver would have effectively ended the deal between Iran, the United States, China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and the European Union.

The other parties to the agreement would have been unlikely to join the United States in reimposing sanctions.

The deal lifted economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program but Trump has argued that Obama negotiated a bad deal.

Britain, France and Germany called on Trump on Thursday to uphold the pact.

Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and that it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it.

Two EU diplomats said EU foreign ministers will discuss what to do now at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Jan. 22 in Brussels.

The US Congress requires the president to decide periodically whether to certify Iran's compliance with the deal and issue a waiver to allow US sanctions to remain suspended.

Trump in October chose not to certify compliance and warned he might ultimately terminate the accord. He accused Iran of "not living up to the spirit" of the agreement even though the International Atomic Energy Agency says Tehran is complying.

Hardliners on Iran in congress have called for the reimposition of the suspended sanctions and an end to the nuclear deal, while some liberal Democrats want to pass legislation that would make it harder for Trump to pull Washington out without congressional consent.

Trump and his top advisors have been negotiating with US lawmakers on Capitol Hill to try to change sanctions legislation so that Trump does not face a deadline on whether to recertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days.

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