On Friday, President Trump will largely wash his hands of the nuclear deal reached with Iran, Russia, China, and three European countries, according to a summary released by the White House late Thursday. Trump has long railed against the deal, grudgingly certifying Iran's compliance two times, and by announcing he is neither certifying it again nor trying to amend it for now, he will leave up to Congress whether to impose deal-wrecking sanctions.
Trump is encouraging Congress to establish "trigger points" on sanctions, but it is unclear if Congress will muster agreement to do anything. The New York Times describes the new Iran strategy as a "face-saving compromise" between Trump and his national security officials, who favor sticking with the Iran deal. Along with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump was getting increasing pressure to not scrap the deal from people outside his administration like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, hawkish former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Uzi Arad, a former Israeli intelligence chief and top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strident critic of the deal.
Trump's new strategy "focuses on neutralizing the government of Iran's destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants," the White House summary says. Trump will announce plans to contain the Iranian Revolutionary Guards but not designated it a foreign terrorist organization, as threatened. Peter Weber
Just before a midnight deadline on Tuesday, the Trump administration informed Congress that Iran is living up to the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal brokered under former President Barack Obama, and was thus eligible for extended sanctions relief. During the 2016 campaign, President Trump was a vocal critic of the deal, negotiated between Iran, the U.S., and five other world powers, but he has given mixed signals on his intentions since taking office. The agreement rolls back Iran's nuclear programs in return for unfreezing billions in Iranian assets.
In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified Iran's compliance, but said the Trump administration is undertaking an interagency review of the deal, led by the National Security Council, to see if it "is vital to the national security interests of the United States." Iran, he added, "remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods." The Islamic republic is still subject to non-nuclear sanctions and remains on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. The White House must update Congress on Iran's compliance every 90 days. Peter Weber
The U.S. and its five negotiating partners agreed to let Iran keep more low-enriched uranium (LEU) and other nuclear materials than agreed upon, so Iran could be in compliance with the nuclear deal by the January deadline, Reuters reports, citing an unpublished report by Washington think tank the Institute for Science and International Security. The institute's president, former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright, told Reuters "the exemptions or loopholes are happening in secret, and it appears that they favor Iran." The report, whose assertions Reuters could not verify, relies on information from several unidentified officials of governments involved in the negotiations; it is scheduled to be released on Thursday.
The exemptions were reportedly approved by the joint commission appointed to oversee the Iran nuclear deal, made up of representatives from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, Germany, and France, plus the European Union. One official told the ISIS think tank that if those exemptions had not been granted, Iran would not have met the Jan. 16 deadline for the beginning of economic sanctions relief. Congress was informed on Jan. 16, after the exemptions had been granted, Albright said. You can read what Iran reportedly got out of the exemptions at Reuters. Peter Weber
On Sunday, President Obama and the European Union issued legal documents paving the way for the lifting of financial and economic sanctions against Iran, but only if Tehran complies with the terms of the deal hammered out with the U.S., the EU, three European nations, China, and Russia. In Europe, the EU published its documents and Obama ordered the relevant federal departments — state, treasury, commerce, and energy — to "take all necessary steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in (the Iran deal)." The U.S. will keep other sanctions in place regardless.
The sanctions won't be eased until the International Atomic Energy Agency affirms that Iran has lived up to its commitments, a process German Foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said wouldn't be complete until the end of the year or the beginning of 2016. Last week, the IAEA said Iran had given it all the necessary information to determine its past history of nuclear activity, as mandated by the nuclear agreement, and on Sunday the U.N. atomic watchdog said Tehran had agreed to protocols allowing more intrusive nuclear inspections. You can learn more in the VOA video below. Peter Weber
On Tuesday, Iran's state news agency said that the Iranian parliament had approved the nuclear deal negotiated with the U.S. and five other world powers. The vote was 161 in favor, 59 against, 13 abstentions, according to the IRNA news agency; 57 other lawmakers either didn't vote or even attend the session. The Guardian Council, a body of 12 senior clerics, will now review the accord, and could send it back to parliament for reconsideration. The final wild card is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on the nuclear deal but has said parliament should decide.
Hardliners tried to sink the deal until the end, and some wept after the vote. Mohammad Bagher Nobakht, a spokesman for President Hassan Rouhani, welcomed the "historic decision," saying: "Members of parliament made a well-considered decision today showing they have a good understanding of the country's situation." Peter Weber
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went all-out to sink the Iran nuclear deal, most famously giving a fiery speech against the deal before the U.S. Congress but also by personally lobbying groups of lawmakers. The deal officially survived on Thursday afternoon, when 42 Senate Democrats prevented a bill of disapproval from leaving the Senate, but it has been clear for a week the accord wouldn't die in Congress.
And starting about a week ago, Netanyahu has basically stopped talking about the Iran deal, The New York Times reports. "He is not particularly interested in playing up the fact that a deal he bitterly opposed is going through," said David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel. "Although he's not saying that the cause is lost, if he hammers away at the same level, he reminds everybody that it's been lost."
Netanyahu did briefly mention Iran in public remarks after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, but not the nuclear deal, and only in between a plug for Israeli innovation and stating his willingness to restart talks with the Palestinians. "I'm willing right now, without any preconditions, any preconditions whatsoever, to sit down with President Abbas and negotiate this peace," Netanyahu said. "I'm willing to go to Ramallah.... Anytime, anywhere, now, without preconditions."
Oddly enough, Netanyahu's "stinging loss on Iran may actually remove a headache," notes The New York Times' Jodi Rudoren, "as many American leaders are wary of seeming to pile on by pressuring him on Palestinian statehood." Peter Weber
On Aug. 9, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cleared his calendar and sat down with 22 U.S. Democratic lawmakers who had been flown to Israel by a branch of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The topic was the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu didn't ask any of the lawmakers to oppose the deal, some of those lawmakers tell The Wall Street Journal, but he answered their questions, explained his opposition to the accord and why he thought it dangerous to Israel, called their upcoming vote a "moral" choice, and at one point drew a picture of a "nuclear gun" with "nuclear bullets." It didn't work: Of the lawmakers at the meeting who have announced how they will vote, seven will support the deal and two will oppose it. There are now enough Democrats to ensure the accord goes into effect.
Characterizing their potential support for the Iran deal as immoral turned off some of the lawmakers, they told The Journal, and others said they didn't appreciate it when Netanyahu said that if the deal were enacted, Iran would soon have ICBMs aimed at the U.S. "Where he lost me was where I thought he was trying to provoke fear," explained Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.).
The final straw for other lawmakers at the meeting was Netanyahu's lack of a viable Plan B. The prime minister said that a better deal would be if Iran dismantled all its nuclear facilities in return for a gradual easing of sanctions, but when one of the members of Congress asked about his plans if the deal goes through, Netanyahu reportedly replied, "We will figure out what we do if we lose the vote."
Still other Democrats say Netanyahu overplayed his hand from the beginning, by accepting a GOP invitation to address Congress without informing the White House. "The unfortunate problem with Prime Minister Netanyahu is that he prides himself on being the Israeli who knows America the best," former Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) tells The Washington Post. "Where he's mistaken is, Prime Minister Netanyahu knows the America that elected Ronald Reagan president. He's completely unfamiliar with the America that elected Barack Obama president. And they are in fact very different Americas." Peter Weber
On Thursday, three more Senate Democrats backed the Iran nuclear deal, giving President Obama 37 votes, enough to ensure that a bill to sink the accord won't survive his veto and just four votes shy of keeping the bill from even getting to his desk. But also on Thursday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran's legislature will also get a binding vote on the deal, giving supporters of the accord a new round of parliamentary politics to worry about.
"Parliament should not be sidelined on the nuclear deal issue," Khamenei said in a nationally broadcast speech. "I don't have any advice to the parliament about how to examine it, approval or disapproval.... I have told the president that it is not in our interest to not let our lawmakers review the deal." The ayatollah has not publicly endorsed or rejected the deal. The speaker of Iran's parliament, Ali Larijani, does support the accord, but later on Thursday he reiterated Khamenei's decision, adding, "There will be heated discussions and debates." President Hassan Rouhani and his team of nuclear negotiators had hoped to avoid a vote in parliament.
Nobody is sure how Iranian lawmakers will vote, but the influential 15-member committee that examined the deal expressed strong reservations, The Wall Street Journal reports. Either way, Khamenei will have the final say, and some analysts suggest he is letting parliament weigh in as a way to keep his options open. Peter Weber