A man dressed up as US President Donald Trump gestures as people hold up signs during a protest calling for the Trump administration to continue diplomacy with Iran near the White House in Washington, DC on October 12, 2017. Trump is set to deal a blow to the Iran nuclear deal, which the European Union is desperate to uphold. / AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS
President Donald Trump will unveil a more aggressive strategy to check Iran’s growing power Friday, but will stop short of withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal or declaring the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.
During a White House speech at 12:45 pm (1645 GMT), Trump is expected to declare the 2015 agreement — which curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief — is no longer in the US national interest.
Officials say he will not kill the international accord outright, instead “decertifying” the agreement and leaving US lawmakers to decide its fate.
Trump had repeatedly pledged to overturn one of his predecessor Barack Obama’s crowning foreign policy achievements, deriding it as “the worst deal” and one agreed to out of “weakness.”
The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — at talks coordinated by the European Union.
While the deal stalled Iran’s nuclear program and marginally thawed relations between Iran and its “Great Satan”, opponents say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence in the Middle East.
According to a fact sheet released by the White House to set the stage for Trump’s speech, he will rail against Iran’s “destabilizing influence” on the Middle East, “particularly its support for terrorism and militants.”
The strategy will seek to shield Israel from Iran’s “unrelenting hostility” and counter the threat to all US interests and allies from Iran’s proxy forces, ballistic missile development and eventual nuclear ambitions.
But the plan as outlined by the fact sheet does not envisage Washington pulling out of the Iran deal’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA. Indeed, “the deal must be strictly enforced, and the IAEA must fully utilize its inspection authorities.”
Since coming to office, Trump has faced intense lobbying from international allies and his own national security team, who argued the deal should remain in place.
In another partial climbdown, Trump is also expected to levy limited sanctions against the Revolutionary Guards, rather than invite retaliation by designating it as a terrorist organization.
The outcome “probably reflects more some of the divisions and debates within the administration,” said former US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.
Apart from running swaths of Iran’s economy and Iran’s ballistic program, the corps is also accused of guiding bellicose proxies from Hezbollah in Lebanon, to the Huthi in Yemen to Shiite militia in Iraq and Syria.
Still, Trump’s tough-guy gambit could yet risk undoing years of careful diplomacy and increasing Middle East tensions.
UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon a landmark nuclear agreement.
“It will be absolutely clear which is the lawless government. It will be clear which country is respected by the nations of the world and global public opinion,” he added.
And Congress must now decide whether to end the nuclear accord by “snapping back” sanctions, which Iran demanded be lifted in exchange for limiting uranium enrichment.
Many lawmakers are waiting to see how Trump presents the choice before deciding whether to keep or torpedo the agreement.
In a statement to AFP, leading Republican Senator Marco Rubio described the accord as “fatally-flawed” and said he was open to legislation that would “substantially improve America’s ability to counter Iran’s nuclear, terrorism, militancy and regional threats.”
– Allies pleading –
Trump has been railing against the Iran deal since before he was elected in November last year.
In office, he has chafed at being required under US law to re-certify Iran’s compliance with the accord every 90 days, declaring that Tehran has broken it “in spirit.”
Right up until the last minute, the other signatories to the deal have urged Washington not to let it fall apart.
“We believe this deal is important to ensuring the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and regional peace and stability. We hope all parties can continue to preserve and implement this deal,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spent much of the week on the telephone, talking through a decision that is deeply unpopular with allies.
Europe fears not only that Iran will resume the quest for the bomb but that the US is relinquishing its leadership role in a stable, rules-based international system.