Donald Trump spent a great deal of time campaigning against Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Nine months into the Trump Administration, the rubber on the Iran deal is about to meet the road. President Trump must decide by Oct. 15 whether to certify to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the deal. Under US law, the president must certify Iran’s fulfillment of the deal to Congress every 90 days. Trump has made the certification twice, but there are indications that this time may be different.
The president told reporters on Wednesday that he had made up his mind about the deal, but declined to reveal his decision. Trump is keeping his cards close, telling reporters, “I’ll let you know what the decision is,” but without saying when he would do so. Politico reported that the president even declined to share his decision with British Prime Minister Teresa May.
NBC News reports that the president is leaning toward decertifying Iran’s compliance with the deal, citing four unnamed sources within the White House. The sources indicate that the president has resolved to change the “status quo.”
If the president decertifies Iran’s compliance with the deal, it would not necessarily mean that the entire deal would be scrapped. NBC’s sources indicate that the president would use the decertification to attempt to persuade the European partners to renegotiate the deal. At this point, Britain, France and Germany are strongly opposed to ending the deal.
There are other options if the president decertifies the deal as well. If the president decertifies the deal, then Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to impose sanctions on Iran. The president could also choose to withdraw from the deal entirely as Ambassador John Bolton has urged.
Trump’s position is awkward. The president has spoken out strongly against the treaty, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday, “Perhaps the technical aspects have (been met), but in the broader context the aspiration has not.” Tillerson said that reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency “continue to confirm that Iran is in technical compliance with the agreement.” A common complaint is the fact that Iran continues to test ballistic missiles, which are not covered under the agreement.
President Trump’s decision will be closely watched by North Korea, where the president is currently engaging Kim Jong Un in a tit-for-tat over the country’s missile tests. How the president handles the agreement with Iran will almost certainly impact the resolution of the North Korean problem.
Whatever direction Trump is leaning now, nothing is certain until a formal announcement is made. Last spring, the president reportedly changed his mind on withdrawing from NAFTA at the last minute. More recently, the president’s commitment to withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty and his hardline immigration policy have been called into question as well.
Time will tell how strong President Trump’s resolve to confront Iran is and which faction of White House advisors have his ear.