It’s unlikely that Congress will have a comprehensive plan to improve the Iran deal ready by Friday, when the waiver of US sanctions against the Iranian regime is set to expire, the Associated Press reported.
So it’s up to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser HR McMaster to convince President Donald Trump that there’s enough momentum behind a bipartisan accord on addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for Hezbollah to justify extending the US waiver and keeping the Iran deal intact.
Per AP, any decision to waive broad sanctions would likely be accompanied by targeted sanctions against specific Iranian individuals and companies.
The old, central bank sanctions largely cut Iran out of the international financial system, and are considered to be the most powerful of the penalties imposed by the U.S. during the Obama era, along with global penalties for buying Iranian oil. Some Iran hawks want to see both sets of restrictions return, but the six people with knowledge of Trump’s plans say the president isn’t planning to reinstate either at this point.
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, alleged 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 U.S. and other world powers rolled back economic restrictions on Tehran, the Iranians severely curtailed their enrichment of uranium and other nuclear activity. Trump has complained that many of the Iranian restrictions expire next decade and has vacillated between talk of toughening the deal and pulling the U.S. out entirely.
A senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday that Tillerson and Mattis would be meeting with Trump on the matter before an announcement Friday. Trump, Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to have lunch Wednesday at the White House after a formal Cabinet meeting.
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Meanwhile, if Trump changes his mind in the next few days and decides to reimpose the sanctions, Iran would resume its enrichment of uranium - even seeking to make up for lost time - the country’s atomic energy agency has said, according to Russia Today.
“If the suspension (of sanctions) is not continued it’s a violation of the [Iran nuclear deal] and the Islamic Republic of Iran will, of course, take the necessary actions,” Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told state TV, as quoted by Reuters.
Trump has called the nuclear agreement the “worst deal ever negotiated,” and has stressed that he could cancel US participation in it “at any time,” eve refusing to certify Tehran’s compliance with the deal in October. But Tillerson has been trying to work with Congress to resolve concerns about the INARA - the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act - that cleared the way for the US to sign on to the deal.
That will be coupled with diplomacy with European government on addressing these concerns.
“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.”
Still, the fate of the deal is far from certain. Trump is facing significant pushback from hardliners like Senators Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who want sanctions back if Iran launches any ballistic missiles capable of targeting territory outside of Iran, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia. Even intermediate and short-range missiles would fall under this designation.
For now, at least, the deal appears safe. Then again, Trump does have a tendency to change his mind.