WASHINGTON (Dispatches) — U.S. President Donald Trump was set Friday to decide whether to jeopardize the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by re-imposing American sanctions on an agreement European leaders say is working just fine.
Washington agreed to sanctions relief under the terms of the landmark agreement reached between Tehran and six world powers — an accord Trump has denounced as one of the worst of all time.
U.S. officials expected Trump to grudgingly sign the sanction waivers once again before they start to expire this weekend — though he was also likely to impose new sanctions on Tehran over non-nuclear issues.
But the angst in Berlin, Brussels, London and Paris underlined what was at stake: the mercurial U.S. president is quite capable of sabotaging the agreement.
Trump argues that his predecessor Barack Obama gave away too much to Iran in sanctions relief, without forcing the Islamic Republic to end its ballistic missile program and support for resistance groups.
"The president still strongly believes this is one of the worst deals of all time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters as Trump’s meeting started.
Trump has already declared that he thinks the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in the United States’ national interest.
By thus "decertifying” the arrangement, he opened a window for Congress to reimpose sanctions, but to date, it has not done so — leaving the issue of the waivers.
So far, Trump has continued to follow Obama’s lead in regularly signing sanctions waivers so that U.S. economic measures against Tehran do not "snap back.”
The deadlines for a number of these waivers to be renewed will fall over the coming week, and Trump on Friday was obliged to decide whether to maintain sanctions relief.
European capitals had pressed Washington to accept that the deal was an international agreement and that Iran has abided by its terms.
Russia spoke out strongly Friday in favor of the accord, ahead of the announcement of Trump’s decision, calling it "the result of a consensus among many parties,” in the words of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The accord, he added can be considered "either good or bad but it is the only one that reflects this consensus,” Peskov added at a press conference.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Trump on Thursday and stressed France’s determination to see "the strict application of the deal and the importance of all the signatories to respect it.”
In any event, the White House was expected to impose new sanctions on Iran over alleged human right abuses and support for resistance movements.
"I think you can expect there will be more sanctions coming up,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters on Thursday.
In Brussels, the European Union and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France presented a united front after talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif.
"The deal is working, it is delivering on its main goal which means keeping the Iranian nuclear program in check,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
The agreement, she said, is "making the world safer and… preventing a potential nuclear arms race in the region.”
UN inspectors have certified Iran’s compliance with the deal nine times, most recently in November.
Iran has said that if the U.S. walks away from the agreement, it is ready to give an "appropriate and heavy response.”
Zarif took to Twitter after the Brussels meeting to warn that "Iran’s continued compliance is conditioned on full compliance by the U.S.”
He said there was a "strong consensus in Brussels today” that Iran was complying with the deal and that "any move that undermines (the agreement) is unacceptable.”