US President Donald Trump has all but decided to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 12, a source familiar with the administration told Reuters on Wednesday. Exactly how he will do so remains unclear.
Trump might choose to remain in the international pact under the terms that Iran restraint its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, in part to maintain closer relationships with France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
The two presidents met last week, and Macron urged Trump to stay in the agreement due to a concern of a backlash by Iran, which could resume its nuclear arms program or “punish” US allies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, diplomats told Reuters.
A presentation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday about what he said was documentary evidence of Tehran’s past nuclear arms program could give Trump a fresh argument to withdraw, even though UN inspectors say Iran has complied with the terms of the deal.
Iran has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and accuses its arch-foe Israel of stirring up world suspicions against it.
The White House official said Trump was “most of the way there toward pulling out of the deal but he hasn’t made the decision” and that he “seems poised to do it but until a decision is made by this president it is not final.”
EUROPEANS LOSING HOPE
Trump gave Britain, France and Germany a May 12 deadline to fix what he views as the deal’s flaws – its failure to address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the terms by which inspectors visit suspect Iranian sites, and “sunset” clauses under which some of its terms expire—or he will reimpose US sanctions.
While European officials continue to work toward such a “fix,” an anonymous American official told Reuters that Trump might make a decision that “is not a full pull-out,” but didn’t specify further.
One of the main sticking points has to do with the “sunsets,” where the United States in effect wishes to find a way to extend some of the limits on Iran’s nuclear program beyond their expiration dates under the agreement.
The source familiar with the debate said US negotiators are hamstrung by the fact that they do not really know where Trump’s “red line” is and so they cannot tell the Europeans what would secure Trump’s blessing.
Trump could refuse to renew the waivers but give new US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo time to negotiate more with the Europeans, exploiting the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism or the time before the most draconian sanctions take effect.
Several sources familiar with the negotiations said that if Trump pulls out, a question for the Europeans will be whether this would be the start of a much harder US line toward Iran, including military confrontation.
“The Europeans are not keen to be dragged into a regional conflict by the US,” said one source familiar with the talks.
Two US intelligence officials said they were particularly concerned about Iranian retaliation in harder-to-trace actions such as cyber attacks on the United States or its allies and attacks on soft targets by people without obvious ties to Tehran.
Such attacks are considered more likely than actions that might trigger a US military response against Iranian nuclear and military targets.
Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres implored Trump to not withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
In an interview with BBC, Guterres said that an American withdrawal from the deal poses a real risk of war breaking out.