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Trump moves closer to decertifying Iran nuclear deal

In this Thursday, June 1, 2017  photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Trump appears on track to decertify the Iran nuclear deal next week. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
In this Thursday, June 1, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Trump appears on track to decertify the Iran nuclear deal next week. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
By Brian Bennett and Tracy Wilkinson Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump appears on track to decertify the Iran nuclear deal next week, a decision that will open an unpredictable debate in Congress and could lead to an unraveling of the landmark agreement.

Trump is planning to announce next week that the Iran deal is not in the U.S. national security interest, and that additional sanctions should be imposed on Tehran to prevent it from restarting its nuclear program at some point in the future, according to a person briefed by the White House who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Aides are drafting a harsh speech that Trump is tentatively planning to deliver on Wednesday or Thursday in which he will explain his decision, according to people briefed on the president’s thinking.

Under a U.S. law, the White House faces an Oct. 15 deadline to certify to Congress whether Iran is in compliance with the accord, and whether the agreement remains in the U.S. national security interest.

The law was passed in 2015 when the Obama administration and five other major powers were completing a deal with Iran that required it to destroy or disable its nuclear infrastructure in exchange for easing of international sanctions. The U.N. Security Council has backed the accord.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, has repeatedly determined that Tehran is meeting its obligations under the deal, and U.S. intelligence agencies have reached the same conclusion.

That leaves national security, a much vaguer standard, as the apparent basis for Trump’s decision on decertification.

National security advisers close to Trump joke that he should give the speech in front of the shuttered Iranian Embassy in Washington. Diplomatic relations were severed after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy and seized scores of hostages in Tehran during the country’s revolution in 1979.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the Iran deal as one-sided and has threatened to scrap it. He ordered an interagency review of U.S. policy toward Iran soon after he took office.

He and other critics insist that Tehran’s support for militant groups in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, its ballistic missile program and other destabilizing actions should be restricted.

The 2015 pact focused only on blocking Iran’s ability to someday build a nuclear bomb, not its other activities.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that the president “has … made a decision” on whether to recertify the deal to Congress.

His main focus “has been a comprehensive strategy on how to deal with Iran,” she said.

“That is what he wanted his team to put in place, and I think you will see that announced in short order, and that will be a comprehensive strategy with a unified team behind him supporting that effort,” she said.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster convened a group of Democratic lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday in an effort to persuade them to support Trump’s decision.

But many Democrats, even some who originally opposed the Iran deal, are not convinced. They fear that throwing the accord to Congress is likely to lead to new nuclear-related sanctions that would effectively put the United States in violation of the accord, alienating allies and giving Iran a reason to withdraw and restart its nuclear program.

“People are getting nervous,” said a person briefed on the discussions. “It could open up a real Pandora’s box.”

European allies who helped broker the agreement have made it clear they would not support efforts to re-impose sanctions or renegotiate a disarmament deal that U.N. nuclear monitors say is working.

The debate has divided some of Trump’s top aides.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that he and other top national security aides were planning to present multiple options to Trump and make a recommendation to him.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis told Congress on Tuesday that the accord remains in the U.S. national security interest. Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also voiced support for the deal, saying it had made the nation safer.

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