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Trump to announce combative new approach to Iran

CNN logo CNN 6 days ago By Kevin Liptak and Dan Merica, CNN
© ATTA KENARE/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump will announce a combative new strategy toward Iran on Friday, ending the United States' adherence to his predecessor's nuclear deal but stopping short, for now, of scrapping the agreement entirely.

The move doesn't amount to ripping up the Iran nuclear accord as he promised to do as a candidate.

Instead, Trump will foist the agreement upon Congress, who now have 60 days to determine a path forward. Republicans and Democrats alike -- who also face upcoming battles over taxes, immigration, and health care -- have shown few signs they're willing to take up another divisive issue.

If lawmakers decide to impose new punitive economic sanctions on Iran, the deal will likely fall apart. Instead, the Trump administration wants members of Congress to adopt new measures that would keep the deal intact, while spelling out parameters by which the US would impose new sanctions should Iran violate its agreements.

In a midday speech, Trump will also detail a more combative approach to Iran's ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist networks, including the possibility of new economic sanctions on individuals and entities associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which provides support for a number of militant groups, including Hezbollah.

© DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images/Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The President hopes to deemphasize the nuclear agreement in US dealings with Iran, placing greater importance on curtailing its destabilizing efforts in the region, which extend from Yemen to Syria to Saudi Arabia.

Trump has been weighing his Iran decision for weeks, and has faced intense pressure from European allies to maintain the US commitment to the accord. His national security advisers have encouraged him to avoid completely withdrawing from the agreement, which was signed by the US along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran in 2015.

A complete removal of the United States from the nuclear deal would isolate the United States and provide an opening for Iran to rethink its own commitments on reducing nuclear stockpiles, some of Trump's advisers and foreign counterparts warned.

Trump has resisted, insisting that he fulfill a core campaign promise to remove the United States from agreements he deems poorly negotiated and harmful. He has twice "certified" the deal, but angrily told his top advisers that he would do so no longer, fearing it appeared he was backing out of his pledge.

He told Fox News host Sean Hannity in a friendly interview this week it was "one of the most incompetently drawn deals I've ever seen."

His announcement on Friday amounts to a middle road, one that allows the President to proclaim to supporters that he's rejected the deal while still remaining a party to it.

President Donald Trump addresses world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images President Donald Trump addresses world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.

Trump has long railed against the agreement as unfairly benefiting Iran while damaging US security interests in the region. He's questioned why the agreement ends after a decade, leaving open the possibility that Iran could resume its push to develop a nuclear weapon. And administration officials say a more stringent inspections program is required to more fully determine whether Iran has halted its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes only.

In his remarks on Friday, Trump will make clear that those issues must be addressed. Administration officials say its unlikely the current agreement can be reopened, given resistance from European partners and Iran's government. Instead, the United States believes a new agreement must be forged that would accompany the existing deal.

But expectations are low, even within the administration, that such a strategy would be successful, given Iran's public resistance to returning to the accord after years of intensive negotiations under the Obama administration.

European allies have also ruled out reopening the agreement since international monitoring agencies are in agreement that Iran is in compliance with its agreements. Even Trump's administration has conceded that Iran is currently technically complying with the accord.

In telephone conversations with French President Emanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May this week, Trump heard sharp resistance to any move that would weaken the Iran nuclear deal. Both leaders affirmed their countries' commitments to remaining part of the accord.

Even some of Trump's own aides have worried the President is more interested in deploying bellicose threats against Tehran than taking productive steps toward stabilizing the region. It's a fear that's shared by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who must now determine a feasible path for either salvaging the nuclear deal or taking steps to dismantle it.

The top senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, is embroiled in a bitter feud with Trump, warning his language could start "World War III." Because of his committee post, Corker will oversee much of the proceedings on the Iran deal.

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