U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified that Iran is complying with the multinational deal to curb its nuclear program but announced a review that could result in scuttling the accord anyway.
Tillerson, in a report to Congress required every 90 days, said Iran has met its commitments so far under the accord signed in 2015 that provided relief from economic sanctions that crimped Iran’s oil exports and hobbled its economy. Still, President Donald Trump ordered his National Security Council to review whether to reimpose the sanctions because of Iran’s continued support for terrorism.
“Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods,” Tillerson wrote in the letter to Congress that was released late Tuesday night. He said the review will evaluate whether the suspension of sanctions “is vital to the national security interests of the United States.”
Trump has panned what he’s called “the horrible Iran deal,” saying it still would let Iran eventually build nuclear weapons. During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump called for dismantling or renegotiating it. Republicans in Congress also have been critics and have advocated imposing new sanctions on Iran for supporting terrorism and for its ballistic missile programs.
But reimposing the sanctions that were explicitly tied to Iran’s nuclear program would face particular opposition from European allies and give the government in Tehran grounds to walk away from the accord.
“The deal is working and there’s absolutely no reason to pull away from it,” Barbara Slavin, acting director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said in an interview Wednesday. “The U.S. would be isolated from the rest of the world. Iran is abiding by it.”
She said the review was a fig leaf to cover a decision by the Trump administration to abide by the Iran accord, if grudgingly. “Every administration, when it doesn’t know what the hell to do, reviews things,” Slavin said.
Under the international agreement, Iran is allowed to enrich and store some uranium for power production, although it had to reduce its uranium stockpile by 96 percent and idle many of its enrichment centrifuges. The Obama administration insisted the provisions would slow the time it would take Iran to produce nuclear weapons.
Opponents of the agreement, including Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, have called for renegotiating the deal with the goal of making permanent its 15-year moratorium on uranium enrichment close to the level needed to make a bomb.
The accord has “a fatal flaw: Iran does not need to cheat to reach threshold nuclear weapons capabilities. By following the deal, and waiting patiently for key constraints to disappear, Tehran can emerge as a threshold nuclear power with an industrial-size enrichment program,” Dubowitz told a congressional committee April 5.