Trump’s ultimatum on Iran nuclear deal tests Europe allies

The US president gives them a deadline of 120 days, the next time he’ll have to decide under US law on whether to waive sanctions


WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has handed European allies an ultimatum to revamp the nuclear deal with Iran, something they have no intention of doing, posing a potential new conflict with other world leaders.

“This is a last chance,” Trump vowed last Friday in a statement announcing that he’d waived economic sanctions tied to the 2015 accord a final time. “No one should doubt my word.”

Trump warned that he would scrap the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear programme — an accord he has long despised — unless European countries “join with the US in fixing significant flaws in the deal”. He effectively gave them a deadline of 120 days, the next time he’d have to decide under American law on whether to waive sanctions.

While most European leaders were silent on Saturday, those who reacted were unhappy with Trump’s approach. “Operating under an ultimatum leads to nothing,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselbourn told Welt am Sonntag in Germany. “Abandoning the nuclear deal with Iran will not lead to more stability but rather would endanger world peace.”

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Trump is signalling that the decision to withdraw from the multilateral accord “is already made or is about to be made”, which he called one of the US’ “largest foreign- policy mistakes, one of the largest miscalculations of American politics”. according to Interfax.

Many European leaders have made clear for months that they agree with international inspectors that Iran is abiding by limits on its nuclear programme set out in the deal it made with the US under former President Barack Obama and five other world powers.

Among Trump’s demands are the elimination of sunset provisions in the agreement that will phase out many restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme in coming years, and spelling out that Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programmes should be considered “inseparable”. The nuclear accord doesn’t directly bar missile testing.

“In a nutshell, what’s he’s saying is ‘Kill the deal with me or I’ll kill it alone,’” said Rob Malley, VP for policy at the International Crisis Group who was Obama’s Middle East advisor. “My impression talking to Europeans is, yes, they want to salvage the deal,” but imposing new requirements on Iran may give it reason to walk away.

“Trump’s policy and today’s announcement amount to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet last Friday.

“Rather than repeating tired rhetoric, US must bring itself into full compliance — just like Iran.”

The president once again waived economic sanctions that were explicitly tied to Iran’s nuclear programme and were eased under the accord. American laws governing those sanctions require the waivers to be renewed every several months.

The Treasury Department also issued new sanctions against 14 people and entities involved with the country’s ballistic missile programmes and the government’s recent crackdown on protesters.

As a presidential candidate, Trump threatened to shred what he’s called “the worst deal ever”. The last time the agreement came up for review, in October, aides had to talk him out of abandoning it completely.

Instead, Trump said then that he would give lawmakers a chance to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, the 2015 bill that was passed as a way to impose a degree of congressional oversight over the agreement.

A key element of Trump’s plan is that sanctions will be reimposed — or “snap back” — automatically if Congress finds Iran to be violating the terms of the accord. In effect, Trump’s proposal calls for American lawmakers to take over judgements on Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“I’ve been warning about this for a year — that Trump is serious about walking away from the deal, and people like me who want to fix the deal and not collapse it have to get our act together and get it fixed because there are fatal flaws,” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, who has advocated for Iran sanctions and helped Congress write them.

Still, Trump left some room to manoeuvre in his statement. He didn’t say exactly what European allies must do beyond addressing the deal’s flaws, countering Tehran’s aggression and “supporting the Iranian people”. Whether that must come in binding action isn’t clear.

The US has been holding frequent, discreet talks with European leaders about what’s next regarding the accord, which Iran reached with the US, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

Lawmakers in Washington have divisions about how to proceed.