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Trump expected to disavow Iran nuclear deal but not abandon it

Nick Wadhams, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is expected on Friday to refuse to certify that the multinational accord to curb Iran's nuclear program sufficiently serves U.S. interests, though he will stop short of abandoning it, according to two senior administration officials.

Trump will make the declaration in a speech where he will outline a broader Iran policy aimed at curtailing what the administration sees as the Islamic Republic's malign behavior in the Middle East -- including its sponsorship of terrorism, the officials said.

After twice acquiescing to arguments from his advisers and U.S. allies, who say Iran is keeping its end of the deal by curtailing its nuclear program, Trump is expected to refuse to certify Iran's compliance again in advance of Oct. 15, the next deadline set by a law Congress passed to supervise the agreement.

After Trump decertifies that the deal is in the interests of the U.S., Congress will have 60 days to introduce legislation reimposing sanctions on Iran that were eased under the agreement -- a move that would be likely to kill the accord.

But Trump is expected to ask Congress to hold off sanctioning Iran for now and instead amend the law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified ahead of Trump's speech. He will ask that Congress set benchmarks for Iranian action, for example by imposing new restrictions on its ballistic missile program.

The administration also wants Congress to target so-called sunset provisions in the nuclear agreement that ease restrictions on Iranian uranium enrichment in coming years.

Trump's argument will focus on a line in the legislation that asks him to certify that lifting sanctions is "appropriate and proportionate" to Iran's moves to end its nuclear program. He will argue that Iran is getting far more than it's giving up under the deal, according to the people.

Trump's move is a gamble that Congress will give his administration time to pressure other nations for new constraints on Iran. Leading Republican opponents of the Iran deal, including Sen. Tom Cotton and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, back Trump's approach.

"As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it," Royce said at a committee hearing on Wednesday.

But Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on MSNBC Thursday that "we don't know what Congress will do" because "the pressure may build" to take action quickly.

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