Trump admin tries to thread its own needle on Iran

Posted on: July 18th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration has once again kept the Iran deal alive while taking a hard line on the country with a new round of sanctions.

The decision — the third time the administration has faced a deadline and abided by the accord — seems to be a new strategy from the White House, apparently resigning itself to sticking with the agreement, but looking for ways to modify it within the current framework or otherwise crack down on Iran.

“This administration will continue to aggressively target Iran’s malign activity, including their ongoing state support of terrorism, ballistic missile program, and human rights abuses,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Here’s what you need to know about what they are doing and what could be next.

What the Trump administration said Monday

The Trump administration certified on Monday night that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, but senior administration officials briefing reporters tried to couch that with a stern warning to the country.

Even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s signed letters of certification were being sent to Congress, the White House said Iran is “unquestionably in default of the spirit of the JCPOA,” or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the deal negotiated by former Secretary of State John Kerry under the Obama administration.

Every 90 days, the executive branch is obligated by law to certify to Congress that Iran is complying with the agreement after the International Atomic Energy Agency compiles a report on the matter. This is the second time President Donald Trump faced this deadline, and both times — despite his condemnation of the deal on the campaign trail — he has signed off on certification with a loud censure of Iran on other issues.

The senior administration officials also said the U.S. will begin tougher enforcement of the deal and seek to work with partners to “employ a strategy” that deals with Iran’s “misbehavior.”

What the Trump administration did Tuesday

It wasn’t all talk, either.

The administration announced a rash of new sanctions against citizens and entities Tuesday for supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the ballistic missile program.

Seven individuals — five Iranians, one Chinese, and one Turk — and 11 entities — six Iranian, four Chinese, and one Turk — were slapped with sanctions, freezing their assets, severing their ties to the U.S. financial system and preventing Americans from doing business with them. Their work includes helping Iran develop and procure military equipment like drones and fast-attack boats.

The Justice Department also announced indictments for two Iranians employed by one of the sanctioned companies — accused of hacking a Vermont-based software firm, stealing its products and reselling them.

What the Trump administration may do next

Despite the strong steps taken against Iran, Trump has reportedly wanted to do more, hesitating to certify Iran’s compliance the two times the administration faced the issue.

In May, when Tillerson announced that the U.S. would sign a round of sanctions waivers to keep the deal in place, he said the administration would begin a 90-day review of its Iran policy. That deadline is Tuesday, however, and the review is ongoing, it seems.

As time goes by, it becomes increasingly difficult to break out of the agreement, with European allies who helped broker the deal loath to tear it up.

But after bashing the agreement on the campaign trail, Trump still faces a wide swath of his party who want him to do just that. John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush who has met with and advised Trump, called Monday’s announcement “the administration’s second unforced error regarding the JCPOA” in an editorial, adding that, “Withdrawing from the JCPOA as soon as possible should be the highest priority.”

It’s unclear whether or not he would do that over the advice of advisers and allies, but the administration’s next move is also dependent on what the Iranians do next.

Iran has accused the U.S. of violating the “spirit” of the agreement, according to IRNA, the state-run news agency, and dismissed the new sanctions as “worthless.”

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