Oct 13, 2017, 5:57 PM ET

Trump takes hard line on Iran, but keeps Obama deal in place

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President Donald Trump slammed Iran Friday, calling the country a "menace" and announced new sanctions against its regime -- but did not take action to alter the Obama-era nuclear deal that he has denounced since his presidential campaign.

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The deal, Trump said, is no longer in the national security interest of the United States. This decision, which has been referred to as “decertification,” is a shift in official position.

It is a significant declaration that leaves the nuclear agreement in place, but puts Congress in charge of whether or not to follow up with action -- triggering a 60-day window for lawmakers to re-impose sanctions against Iran that were suspended in 2015 as part of the agreement.

Trump outlined three steps as part of America's path forward: to counter "destabilizing activity" in the Middle East, impose new sanctions on non-nuclear aspects of the regime and address the country's nuclear ambitions.

"Our policy is based on clear assessment of Iranian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism and its continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world," Trump said.

While the president portrayed the decision as having originated with his administration, he acknowledged that Congress holds the key to the deal's future.

"I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal's many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons," he said.

Tehran and world powers in July 2015 crafted a deal that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for stepped-up international monitoring of its nuclear development activities.

The agreement reduced the amount of nuclear fuel Iran can keep and extended the "breakout time" needed for Iran to create a single bomb. Some of Iran's facilities are now also subject to constant monitoring, with others subject to inspections after a waiting period.

The president accused Iran of "not living up to the spirit of the deal," while the U.S. abides by its promises, despite top officials on his national security team, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, saying Iran has technically complied with its restrictions. The International Atomic Energy Association, tasked with validating Iran's adherence to the agreement, released a statement Friday further confirming the country's compliance.

"At present, Iran is subject to the world's most robust nuclear verification regime," the IAEA said in a statement.

Trump's remarks, while not alleging a specific violation of the nuclear-related terms, singled out the "Iranian regime" for "continu[ing] to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani defended his country's participation in the deal Friday after Trump's speech and attacked the decision, saying that the U.S. was "completely alone" in its policy toward Iran. He added that Iran would not hesitate to respond if the deal's other parties "do not stay loyal."

Rouhani further characterized Iran’s missile program as purely defensive in nature and necessary in the face of U.S. aggression.

“We always tried to produce weapons ourselves,” he said. “And from now on we will redouble that effort... to defend ourselves.”

In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif portrayed Trump as kowtowing to external interests, and describing the U.S. president's words as "rogue."

Trump also announced sanctions Friday on Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, whom he accused of providing assistance to terrorist groups. He encouraged U.S. allies to take action to counter the group's efforts "including thorough sanctions outside the Iran deal that target the regime's ballistic missile program in support for terrorism and all of its destructive activities, of which there are many."

Though Trump did not go so far as to end the nuclear deal, he told reporters on the White House South Lawn after his speech that his prior threat to "rip it up" was still a possibility.

"I may do that. I may do that," Trump said. "The deal is terrible. So what we've done is, through the certification process, we'll have Congress take a look at it and I may very well do that. But I like a two-step process much better."

Republicans critical of the initial deal have urged the administration to enforce it.

PHOTO: A view of the reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant as the first fuel is loaded, Aug. 21, 2010 in Bushehr, southern Iran. IIPA via Getty Images
A view of the reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant as the first fuel is loaded, Aug. 21, 2010 in Bushehr, southern Iran.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. said in a statement Friday that he agrees with Trump that the deal doesn't benefit U.S. interests, but that he is interested in approving, rather than ending, it.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress on additional legislation to increase sanctions and other pressure to hold Iran accountable for its broader destructive behavior in the region," McCain said in the statement. "I am also eager to collaborate with our partners and allies to revisit the most problematic provisions of the nuclear deal, and support a unified, forceful international front in the event that Iran materially breaches the terms of the agreement."

On Wednesday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif. said in a hearing that while he felt the deal was "flawed," he believed the U.S. "must now enforce the hell out of it."

“Let’s work with allies to make certain that international inspectors have better access to possible nuclear sites, and we should address the fundamental sunset shortcoming, as our allies have recognized," said Royce.

Even Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., one of the most vocal critics of the Iran deal and supporters of decertification, has recommended holding off on “snapping back,” or restoring immediately, the nuclear sanctions lifted as part of the deal. He called the move a “backward-looking step” and said Congress should instead impose new ballistic sanctions and lift some of the Iran agreement’s sunset provisions which allow some regulatory measures to expire after certain periods.

The goal with such actions, according to Cotton, would be to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to strengthen the original deal.

But some Obama-era officials who worked on the agreement said that hope was unrealistic.

“I would love to see Iran come back to the table, apologizes for everything and agree to all of our demands,” Philip Gordon, White House coordinator for the Middle East during the Iran negotiations, told ABC News. But he called such a notion a “fantasy.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, a signatory to the agreement who personally engaged in the final negotiations, released a highly critical statement after Trump's speech Friday. Kerry called Trump's decision a "dangerous" on that "polluted the negotiating waters," and expressed bewilderment at why the president would not recognize Iran's adherence to the terms. He called on Congress to follow through in maintaining the spirit of the deal.

"Our allies and our Congress must now act as the only adults left in the room with the power to protect our national interests," the statement read, in part, adding, "I can't think of a more important moment than this one where cooler, wiser voices have had a bigger responsibility to put a policy back on track."

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who led the charge against the bill and wrote a law forcing congressional oversight of the Iran agreement, has also expressed skepticism that decertifying the deal is the right decision.

“You can only tear these things up one time. It might feel good for a second, but one of the things that's important for us is to keep our allies with us,” he said, referring to the other signatories of the Iran deal which include China and Russia as well as the European Union.

While many of the parties to the deal spoke out against Trump's stance, the president found supporters in a pair of regional allies who were not signatories to the agreement: the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The latter described the U.S.'s strategy Friday as "resolute" and a "clear-eyed vision."

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are considered regional rivals of Iran and have made overtures to work towards a closer relationship with the Trump administration since the president's inauguration in January. Each country expressed public support for the nuclear deal upon its signing, despite reservations.

ABC News' Conor Finnegan, Kirit Radia and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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  • Thomas

    I am still waiting for Trump to explain exactly why this deal is the "worst".

    International agreements are, by their very nature, a compromise.

  • GorillaMyDreams

    Once again President Trump proves he knows more than his generals.

    /s

  • jake

    Mr Mueller. Please hurry with those indictments.
    Thank you - The world.

  • Hawkman100

    A President completely out of control and reacting to a non-existent current problem, Iran, for purely political reasons. And that's only this week.

    What more do Americans need to invoke Article 25 of the US Constitution and remove him from office??

  • linmarco

    After this why should any country, headed by rational thinking leaders, want to enter into any kind of agreement with us? Where, when, and how does it all end?

  • RedSoxPatriotsCelticsBruinsFan

    Im confused are the iranians which are shia are they for or against the taliban sunnis. Cant figure it out.

  • ruelph

    As reported, the leaders of Britain, Germany and France have declared their backing for the Iran nuclear deal renounced by President Donald Trump, saying it is "in our shared national security interest."

  • RZC

    This guy doesn't even belong as a head dog catcher surely not as POTUS here is what a line top general has to say and it's absolutely true on the statement about our allies which may be ending soon if this nut case keeps it up.
    Gen. Barry McCaffrey: Trump could lead U.S. to war with N. Korea
    Saying Pres. Trump has lost almost all credibility with the international community, including our allies,

  • Seabreeze Oceana

    Unhinged, Unfit, Mentally Unstable Ego-driven Trump, Mad-dog Generals ready to walk out and quit, blind, deaf, and unpatriotically stupid self-serving (oh those tax cuts for us) Republican Party, and we have to wonder if an incompetent bunch of donor-governing-fools might be protecting the Nation? Scary,

  • Roshak

    First of all this clown must read history , When arabs was living in Tent we have palace , when arabs was living in desert we had civilization ,from 2500 years ago !Great one ! when even lots of countries was not even exist ! Iran had PERSIAN GULF . and forever the Gulf Name will be PERSIAN ! You are free to do whatever you want Mr. Clown because this is what clowns do , they don't use Mind they use their hand and mouth to act like a real clown.

  • Rob Ford

    This has

    nbothing to do with Trump...you are such fools.

  • John Smith

    Here is the problem with Moron Trump’s train of thought: (a) The Iran deal isn't a bilateral deal between Iran and the U.S. it also includes Europe, China, Russia and others, and (b) the $150 billion that Trump keeps talking about that was paid to Iran because of this deal wasn't cash paid out of the U.S. treasury to Iran. It was the value of Iran's own assets that had been frozen in banks around the world when sanctions were imposed.

    From all verifiable accounts Iran is in compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal. Trump on his own and against the advice of his senior advisers keeps saying in fact that Iran has broken the deal, even though Iran's compliance has been confirmed by all the other parties to the agreement, including the International Atomic Energy Agency. Trumps own national security team has also confirmed that Iran is in compliance. But when has the truth been essential to Trump’s own distorted mind. He is leading the US into another unnecessary conflict, and there is no reason for it other than to oppose another Obama lead world initiative. We are dealing with a very sick mind at work.

  • Primo Veritas

    >>While many of the parties to the deal spoke out against Trump's stance, the president found supporters in a pair of regional allies who were not signatories to the agreement: the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The latter described the U.S.'s strategy Friday as "resolute" and a "clear-eyed vision."<<

    Ah, yes. The "regional allies" with whom Trump does business and were exempt from his travel ban, even though they provided the terrorists who gave us 911.

    Now those "allies" don't want the USA to keep surveillance on, and thus have control over, Iran's nuclear activities? Interesting.

    I realize Trump stuck Congress with decisions about the Obama deal, but I'm still amazed at how short-sighted Trump can be. If Obama's name is on it, even if it's a good idea, the deal has to go.

  • In Eternity

    Deal or no deal, Iran has the right to defend Iran. Atomic energy for all or for none.
    I would not worry about Iranian children "scare-chanting" against Zionist shysters or American bullies.. ...some singers do not kill ...and some killers do not sing...

  • 11danny

    Yep, it was a terrible deal to begin wit to allow nutcases to get nukes in about 10 years.

  • boyscout

    look let's just cut the crap. Back when General wesley clark was running for president he spoke of a document with 7 country names on it that the pentagon wanted to destablize. Iran is the las one on that list. So for all that bs about draining the swamp, it appears to me that instead psycho boy just jumped right in to join them for a lovely swim with "values".....hahaha!

  • Arkansaw

    By the by, Donald, I hope you know that people are laughing at you. They are laughing at you in WDC, they are laughing at you in Teheran, they are laughing at you in capital cities and small towns the world over. It isn't hearty laughter, but the bitter laughter earned by a bad joke. Plus, the more people laugh, the less relevant you are. The world is going to go about its business despite you. That dust in the air around you is the dust raised by everybody passing you by.

  • lousyundead

    Trump the Terrible. There will always be an asterisk by his name, the time we had a deranged moron running the country.

  • Esther Haman

    President Obama tried to bring peace to the world and reduce animosity between Iran and US. What is Trump doing to improve that!? Goes back on the promises, the handshakes, the deals or any good will that may have existed.
    HIS NEW NAME and TITLE IS: Comrade Trump The Destroyer.

  • Arkansaw

    By the by, Donald, passing the buck is a sign of cowardice. However wrong backing out of the Iran deal may be, if that is what you want to do then you need to own it, not dump it elsewhere. But then, you've exhibited your yellow streak all along, as Kim can testify to.