President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, allowing sanctions against the country to resume.
"It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement," Trump said, standing in the White House. "The Iran deal is defective at its core."
Trump said that in getting rid of the deal, he was also "instituting the highest level of economic sanction" against Iran's nuclear program in the hopes of drawing Tehran back to the negotiating table.
Under the memorandum that Trump signed following his speech, the US Treasury Department will begin to reinstate sanctions that were waived under the Iran deal, to be completed no later than 180 days from Tuesday. Businesses will have to begin winding down their dealings that were put in place under the terms of the deal and no new contracts will be allowed to come into effect.
Sanctions that levy penalties against banks and other financial institutions in countries that import oil from Iran were due to snap back into place at the end of the week absent a waiver from Trump. Others, targeting sectors of the Iranian economy including shipping and aviation, were due to expire in July.
"Iran's leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal," Trump continued. "They refuse. And that's fine. I'd probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people. When they do, I am ready, willing, and able."
Trump has consistently scorned the deal since the campaign trail; as president, he called it one of the worst agreements the US has ever negotiated. He has resisted pressure from international allies, including French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who made extraordinary appeals to him to stay in the deal by appearing on Fox News over the past several days.
Trump and his allies have insisted the deal is too generous to Iran, naively allows Tehran to run out the clock on the deal’s expiration date, and ignores its missile program and military adventures in Syria and elsewhere in the region. The Obama administration finalized negotiations on the deal in 2015, alongside the UK, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union, and it was presented as a major foreign policy win. Under its terms, the US and others would lift some unilateral and multilateral sanctions targeting Iran and unfreeze seized Iranian assets worth $100 billion. In return, Iran would halt almost all nuclear enrichment, eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium, drastically reduce the number of centrifuges it would be able to operate, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency into its facilities.
Since the deal was agreed upon, the IAEA has verified Iran’s compliance 11 times, most recently in February.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, touted the nuclear deal as a way for his country to move past the weight the sanctions had placed on the economy. Hardliners at home, however, saw the deal as a capitulation and have resisted it ever since. Rouhani on Tuesday swiftly followed Trump's speech with a national address, saying that Iran will remain within the terms of the deal. On Monday, he'd predicted that should the US pull out, Iran “will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this.”
On Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, said that Iran would only continue to uphold the deal with further guarantees from its European signatories. He added, however, that he doesn't trust the UK, Germany or France and said the Iranian government should seek "practical guarantees".
In the US, the deal was unpopular with most Republicans and some Democrats. Congress put into place provisions to allow the president to waive US sanctions but not repeal them, allowing for the ability to put the sanctions back into place quickly should Iran violate the agreement. Trump has issued several waivers since taking office last year but has reportedly grown more agitated each time.
Democratic senators were swift to issue their condemnation of Trump's withdrawal announcement. "President Trump showed us again today that when he says ‘America First,’ he actually means ‘America alone,’" Sen. Tim Kaine said in a statement. "By violating the Iran deal, the President is creating a new global nuclear crisis while we’re trying to address another one with North Korea."
Trump is now surrounded by Iran hawks, including his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo; National Security Adviser John Bolton; and Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is currently serving as his personal lawyer. All three have at some point advocated for regime change in Iran. Secretary of Defense James Mattis meanwhile has been a lone voice arguing for keeping the deal but many of his fellow advocates, including former secretary of state Rex Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, have left the administration.
Former secretary of state John Kerry had been attempting to save the deal behind the scenes, including meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, prompting Trump to respond angrily on Twitter. Former president Barack Obama issued a statement after the speech calling the choice to leave the agreement without Iran violating it "a serious mistake."
"If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat or going to war to prevent it," Obama said.
In recent weeks, there’s been an all-out blitz from US allies to try to convince Trump to remain in the deal. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both visited the US in April to try to sway the president, but Macron left convinced that Trump would allow the sanctions to remain in place.
"France, Germany, and the UK regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA," Macron tweeted after Trump's speech, using the initialism for the deal's formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. "The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake." Macron, Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a joint statement to "emphasise our continuing commitment to the JCPoA" and urge Iran to honor its commitments under the deal.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced that the European Union would maintain its commitment to the full implementation of the deal and made a plea to Iran’s leadership and the Iranian people, saying, “To each and every one of you, do not let anyone dismantle this agreement. ... Stay true to your commitments, as we will stay true to ours.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on the other hand, tweeted his thanks to Trump for leaving the deal. Last week, Netanyahu produced what he called dramatic evidence that Iran had intended to build a nuclear weapon before the nuclear deal was put into place. Critics of the deal said this showed that the JCPOA was negotiated in bad faith — supporters, however, said the material was already known. The US intelligence community determined in 2007 that Iran had abandoned its pursuit of a nuclear weapon in 2003.