Trump may ‘sign off’ on continuing Iran nuclear deal, while seeking ways to ‘fix’ it

Trump will probably extend sanctions relief for Iran as part of the nuclear deal, while seeking ways to fix it.

By: AP and Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

President Donald Trump is expected this week to extend relief from economic sanctions to Iran as part of the nuclear deal, citing progress in amending US legislation that governs Washington’s participation in the controversial accord, according to US officials and others familiar with the administration’s deliberations.

The individuals — two administration officials, two congressional aides and two outside experts who consult with the government — weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.

Trump is likely to pair his decision to renew the concessions to Tehran with new, targeted sanctions on Iranian businesses and people, the American officials said. The restrictions could hit some firms and individuals whose sanctions were scrapped under the 2015 nuclear agreement, and that decision that could test Tehran’s willingness to abide by its side of the bargain.

Everything is ‘now on the table’

A leading Israeli expert on the Iranian nuclear sanctions, Dr. Gerald Steinberg from the Political Science department of Bar Ilan University, told World Israel News (WIN), “In the last round Trump already changed the rules of the game because he refused to certify that Iran is following the (nuclear) agreement.  He (Trump) said we are going to have to check and look at things, like Iran’s behavior in Syria, its relationship with the Hezbollah terrorist organization and missile tests. All of these things are now on the table, so even if Trump certifies, it doesn’t stop everything, and it will come up again a few months from now.”

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Trump must decide by Friday whether to extend the nuclear-related sanctions relief for Iran’s central bank or re-impose the restrictions that former President Barack Obama suspended two years ago. The individuals with knowledge of Trump’s plans say the president isn’t planning to reinstate either at this point.

US officials cautioned that Trump could still reject the recommendation from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster and warning not to scrap the nuclear deal, and stressed that no final decision had been made. They said heated discussions were going on within the administration and with key Republican lawmakers.

Waving old sanctions, imposing new ones

The individuals said Trump’s top national security aides appear to have successfully made a different case to the president: Waiving anew for 120 days the nuclear-linked sanctions while simultaneously imposing new measures to punish Iran’s ballistic missile testing, terrorism support and human rights violations.

Such a balance could satisfy Trump’s demand to raise pressure on Iran, while not embarking on a frontal assault on the most central trade-offs of the nuclear agreement. While the US and other world powers rolled back economic restrictions on Tehran, the Iranians severely curtailed their enrichment of uranium and other nuclear activity.

Trump has underscored that many of the Iranian restrictions expire next decade and has vacillated between talk of toughening the deal and pulling the US out entirely.

Fix it or nix it

The decision coincides with the administration’s efforts to secure a fix from Congress on the requirement for Trump to address Iran’s compliance every three months. In October, Trump decertified the nuclear deal under US law, saying the sanctions relief was disproportionate to Iran’s nuclear concessions, and describing the arrangement as contrary to America’s national security interests.

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Tillerson told the Associated Press in an interview last week that he and others were working with Congress on ways to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, to resolve concerns Trump has with the deal. That will be coupled with diplomacy with European governments addressing Iran’s missile testing and support for the Hezbollah terror group, Shiite rebels in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Tillerson said of the overall deal. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”

The Iranians may not go along with Trump’s efforts to “fix” INARA. Steinberg told WIN, “The Iranians may stomp out in anger. New sanctions will not help their economic problems. It’s a whole new ball game so either way  it goes, it’s still  going to  be part of a process that is unraveling what Obama put together in his last years in office.”

According to Steinberg, “There is always a tradeoff. Iran is in the midst of public uprisings over economic issues. The country is in the process of changing. It makes things more intense and places more pressure on the Iranian regime. Whatever happens, the Europeans are very unlikely to go along with the Americans on this.”

What can Trump do?

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Iran deal, one of Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, as the worst ever negotiated by the US. He has particularly bristled at having to give Iran a “thumbs up” every few months by acknowledging that it is meeting the requirements to invest in foreign banks, sell petroleum overseas, buy US and European aircraft, and so forth.

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One proposal for amending the deal is to automatically re-impose, or “snap back,” suspended sanctions if Iran commits certain actions, possibly including things unrelated to its nuclear program. Currently, Congress must act for the sanctions to snap back.

Another proposal would require snapback if Iran refuses a request from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s atomic watchdog, to inspect a military site not currently being monitored. Iran hawks worry that the IAEA won’t even ask for such an inspection, fearing a confrontation with Iran.

Other debates center on Iran’s missile testing. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz want sanctions back if Iran launches any ballistic missiles capable of targeting territory outside of Iran, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, and not just an intercontinental missile.

‘It’s guess work’

“Trump is unpredictable, but I guess you have to guess that he will do what he did last time, which was to send the problem to Congress,” Steinberg said. “It’s been four months and Congress has yet to deal with the issue. They will only be coming back to Washington after the winter break, so it will take some time until Congress can address the issue.”

Steinberg ventured a prediction, saying, “It’s guess work with Trump, but If I had to put money down, and I don’t want to, I would estimate that he’ll decide to what he did last time, because it worked. It’s probably his best strategy.”