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Trump expected to stay the course on Iran deal but add new penalties

President Trump faces a deadline Friday to say whether he will continue to exempt Iran from a suite of tough economic sanctions under the landmark international nuclear deal he has called an embarrassment for the United States.

The administration said Thursday that it plans additional sanctions that are separate from those covered under the international nuclear deal with Iran, an indication that Trump is unlikely to break it now, despite his opposition.

Trump’s top national security advisers met with him Thursday at the White House. Announcement of the decision was expected Friday morning. If those sanctions are reimposed, the United States would automatically violate the deal brokered by Trump’s predecessor that lifted the sanctions in exchange for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear development program.

“You’re going to be finding out very soon,” Trump said Thursday when asked about Iran. “You’ll be finding that out very soon.”

U.S. officials and others have said Trump is expected to accept the recommendation of senior advisers that he keep the old nuclear-related sanctions suspended, while announcing new ones that would target other aspects of Iran’s behavior such as mass arrests during anti-government protests this month. Those types of sanctions are not covered under the agreement the United States and other world powers reached with Iran in 2015, and President Barack Obama also imposed additional non-nuclear sanctions on Iran after the deal was implemented.

“I am expecting new sanctions on Iran,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Thursday. “We continue to look at them, we’ve rolled them out, and you can expect there will be more sanctions coming.”

Mnuchin did not say when. But other officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they expect the announcement of additional sanctions to be coordinated with what, to Trump, is the distasteful task of granting a waiver under the Iran deal he has blasted as weak and a giveaway to Iran.

Trump also faces a deadline Friday to say whether he will “certify” to Congress that Iran is complying with the deal and that it remains in U.S. interests to adhere to it. Trump declined to make that certification in October, throwing the deal into limbo but not breaking it outright.

No other country requires its leaders to periodically justify the deal the way the U.S. president must, but Congress enacted a law with the requirement out of deep and abiding mistrust of Iran’s intentions.

“The president has been very clear, okay, that many aspects of the Iran deal need to be changed; that there are many activities outside of the Iran deal, whether it be ballistic missiles, whether it be other issues, that we will continue to sanction that are outside the JCPOA,” Mnuchin said, using the acronym for the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“Human rights violations. We couldn’t be more focused,” he said. “We have as many sanctions on Iran today as we have on any other country in the process. And we’ll continue to look at things.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump “still strongly believes this was one of the worst deals of all time.”

“One of the single greatest flaws is that its restrictions leave Iran free in the future to openly develop their nuclear program, and rapidly achieve a nuclear weapons breakout capability. Obviously we see big problems with that,” Sanders said. “The administration is continuing to work with Congress and with our allies to address those flaws.”

As a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has committed to not building nuclear weapons, even after the restrictions on its program lapse, and it is entitled to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The curbs it accepted as part of the deal extended the breakout period — the time it takes to amass enough fissile material to build one nuclear weapon — from two months to one year, which the negotiators believed would give them enough time to react and snap back the suspended sanctions if Iran cheats on its commitments.

Britain, France, Germany and the European Union united Thursday to call on the United States to protect the Iran nuclear pact. European powers who co-signed the deal say Iran has complied with its terms and deserves the sanctions relief it was promised. The Trump administration and congressional leaders have sought European agreement on ways to toughen the deal, and such agreement is considered essential before U.S. legislation could go forward. A legislative “fix” Trump requested in October has not materialized.

All parties to the agreement, including Iran, would have to agree to any changes to the accord. That is considered highly unlikely, however, and the Europeans have made clear that any concerns over Iran’s behavior, such as its support of militant groups in the region and continued missile testing, must be dealt with separately from the agreement. The Europeans consider the deal a great success that contributes to their security.

“The accord is essential and there is no alternative,” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in Brussels. He added that unrelated international complaints about Iran can be dealt with separately. “We do not hide the other points of disagreement that exist,” Le Drian said.

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump about the deal on Thursday, Macron’s office said.

“President Macron reaffirmed France’s determination to see the agreement strictly enforced and the importance for all of its signatories to abide by it,” Macron’s office said in a statement to reporters. “The smooth implementation of the agreement should be accompanied by a stepped-up dialogue with Iran on its ballistic missile program and its regional policy in order to guarantee greater stability in the Middle East.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke by phone Thursday with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, the State Department said in a brief statement that did not mention whether the two diplomats discussed the coming sanctions deadline and Trump’s response. European officials separately said they did.

“They discussed Iran’s repressive actions against protesters and its destabilizing activities in the Middle East,” and Gabriel briefed Tillerson on meetings this week among European powers and Iranian representatives, the statement said.

Steve Goldstein, the State Department’s undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, said U.S. responses to the Iranian protests should be kept separate from decision-making on U.S. participation in the deal.

“I don’t think we should conflate the two,” Goldstein said.

Source: Washington Post

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