It has been nearly six weeks sine Vice President Mike Pence surprised Israeli lawmakers during a speech at the Knesset by declaring that the US would not recertify the Iran deal when it comes up for renewal again in May - leaving open the possibility that sanctions could be reimposed shortly after.
And in the latest sign that, after loudly criticizing the Iran deal as one of the "worst deal ever", the Trump administration is planning to move ahead with its plans to reimpose sanctions, Axios reports that Trump told Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu that he will demand "significant changes" to the deal in his negotiations over possible modifications as the different parties try to come to a "last chance" compromise to keep it intact.
President Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in their meeting at the White House last Monday that he won't show flexibility in the negotiations with France, Germany and the U.K. on amending the Iran nuclear deal, two senior Israeli officials told me.
The officials say Trump told Netanyahu that until now the three European powers only proposed "cosmetic changes" that he doesn't find satisfactory. Trump said he demands "significant changes" in the Iran deal itself and not simply the addition of a supplemental agreement between the U.S. and the European countries, according to the officials.
The bottom line: Trump stressed that if his demands are not met, the U.S. will withdraw from the deal.
In a tacit confirmation of the report - which clearly suggests that it was intended to send a message to the other signatories and especially Iran - White House officials refused to deny it.
While Pence's announcement echoed President Trump's declaration that he had re-certified the deal in January "for the last time", the president later set a deadline of May 12 for negotiations between the US and the "European Three" (the UK, France and Germany) in hopes of securing a better deal, though Iranian leaders have adamantly declared that they won't accept any modifications to the original deal. However, Iranian President Rouhani has said he wouldn't be the first to abandon the deal and has informed the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency that it will continue to comply with the deal's terms.
The report also comes just days before the third round of negotiations to retool the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the official name of Obama's Iran deal) are set to begin in Berlin.
Trump has set May 12th as the deadline to reach an agreement with France, Germany and the U.K. to "fix" the nuclear deal and avoid U.S. withdrawal. In the last 2 months, two rounds of talks were held in London and Paris between senior diplomats from the four countries. A third round is expected this Thursday in Berlin. Israel is not a party to the talks directly but is updated on their contents.
Trump hosted Netanyahu and his wife at the White House on Monday. Shortly after their meeting, Pence gave a speech to AIPAC where he once again emphasized that this is the "last chance" to salvage the deal - though the chances that it will be preserved are looking increasingly tenuous.
"President Trump has called on the Congress and our European allies to enact real and lasting restraints on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. Earlier this year, the President waived sanctions to give our lawmakers and our allies time to act. But make no mistake about it: This is their last chance. Unless the Iran nuclear deal is fixed in the coming months, the United States of America will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal immediately."
Republicans in Congress have tried to sabotage the deal by passing sanctions against the country's ballistic missile program, as well as sanctions meant to stifle financing of Iran proxy Hezbollah.
While a wave of economic protests that momentarily threatened the government's grip have mostly subsided, Iranians are still struggling with massive youth unemployment and runaway inflation. Given the state of unrest at home, it's possible that Iran's leaders may be reconsidering their hard-line stance on modifications - if only because reimposing the sanctions would rapidly undo what economic progress has been made since they were lifted, possibly leading to another round of destabilizing demonstrations.