Trump withdraws from Iran nuke deal: 'It's defective at its core'

By Sara Shayanian and Danielle Haynes  |  Updated May 8, 2018 at 3:46 PM
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May 8 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is withdrawing the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, ending months of speculation on how he planned to handle what he described as "one of the worst deals in history."

"I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal," he said in a televised address before signing a memorandum making the action official.

"The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen," he added, warning of an arms race in the Middle East.

Trump said the United States would no longer abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, four days before a Saturday deadline to decide whether to recertify the 2015 pact.

As part of withdrawing from the pact, Trump said the United States "will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions" on Iran. This includes sanctions against any country that helps Iran with its nuclear program.

Trump has long weighed withdrawing from the JCPOA and has been a relentless critic of the agreement, reached under the Obama administration. He's described the deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for limits on its nuclear program, as "terrible" and said it contains "disastrous flaws." The multilateral agreement was also approved by China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the European Union.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country's nuclear activity is peaceful and is not geared toward creating weapons. He said the United States is not respecting international commitments by withdrawing from the pact.

"Iran is a country that adheres to its commitments. And the U.S. is a country that has never adhered to its commitments," he said during a televised address following Trump's remarks.

Under the deal, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and reduce its number of gas centrifuges.

In addition to taking issue with the expiration of some restrictions after 10 to 15 years, the Trump administration accuses Iran of being a bad actor regardless of any nuclear pursuits.

The administration wants an end to Iran's "destabilizing influence" on the Middle East, its support of terror groups like Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen, and to limit its ballistic missile program. Iran also is accused of supporting the Assad regime's atrocities against the Syrian people, hostility against Israel, threatening freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, cyberattacks against the United States and other countries and arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens.

"The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror. It exports dangerous missiles [and] fuels conflicts across the Middle East," Trump said Tuesday. "The Iranian regime has funded its long reign of chaos and terror by plundering the wealth of its people."

Trump said the Iran deal does not put limits on Iran's "other malign behavior."

"We are determined to make sure [Iran] never possesses a nuclear weapon," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Saudi Arabia last week. "The Iran deal in its current form does not provide that assurance."

Pompeo, who called Iran the "greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world," said the United States would be prepared to "stand with Saudi Arabia" and was "deeply concerned about Iran's dangerous escalation of threats toward Israel."

"Iran has only behaved worse since the deal was approved," Pompeo said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump for the "historic move" Tuesday to "make sure Iran never gets nuclear weapons."

"Israel thanks President Trump for his courageous leadership," he said.

Trump's announcement comes more than a week after Netanyahu announced his country had thousands of pages of documents proving Iran is secretly pursuing a nuclear program, though those documents were from before the Iran nuclear deal was agreed upon. Trump cited this proof Tuesday as a reason for pulling out of the deal.

Rouhani said Iran seeks "constructive" and "win-win" relations with the world, but will continue down the path of development at home regardless of any sanctions.

Despite encouragement from Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to nix the deal, many European powers, China and Russia have encouraged Trump to stick with the agreement.

A succession of European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, have visited the White House in recent weeks to persuade Trump to stick with the accord.

France will continue to push for a broader deal with Iran, "whether the United States participates or not," French Defense Minister Florence Parly said Tuesday, noting the Iranians are "respecting" the agreement. Germany said Monday it would remain in the deal.

"France, Germany and the U.K. regret the U.S. decision to leave the JCPOA. The nuclear non-proliferation regime is at stake," Macron said after Trump's announcement.

"We don't think there is any justifiable reason to pull out of this agreement and we continue to make the case for it to our American friends," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

Russia has been an adamant supporter of the deal, and the Kremlin has said it "must be strictly observed by all signatories."

China and India also are expected to resist any unilateral American action, as they are the world's two top buyers of Iranian crude oil.

"With trade skirmishes between the U.S. and China and all kinds of political issues, I see the resistance from Chinese crude buyers to comply" with U.S. sanctions against Iran, Victor Shum, vice president of the energy group at IHS Markit, told CNBC.

In an unusual reaction to his successor, former President Barack Obama issued a statement calling Tuesday's announcement "so misguided."

"Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America's closest allies, and an agreement that our country's leading diplomats, scientists and intelligence professionals negotiated," Obama said.

"In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America's credibility, and puts us at odds with the world's major powers."

At home, House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed with Trump's stance that the deal is "deeply flawed."

"The president is right to insist that we hold Iran accountable both today and for the long-term," he said. "There will now be an implementation period for applying sanctions on Iran. During that time, it is my hope that the United States will continue to work with our allies to achieve consensus on addressing a range of destabilizing Iranian behavior -- both nuclear and non-nuclear."

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