The Trump administration said Monday that it will certify to Congress that Iran is still complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, but it also promised to impose new sanctions on the country over its ballistic missile program and other alleged misbehavior.
"The secretary of state and the president intend to emphasize that Iran remains one of the most dangerous threats to U.S. interests and to regional security," a senior administration official said on a conference call.
The administration’s announcement was part of a pattern emerging in its treatment of Iran: Even when acknowledging that Iran is doing something that it wants, the administration nonetheless looks at other ways to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic.
President Donald Trump has in the past bashed the nuclear deal, which was negotiated under his predecessor, Barack Obama, and he took office promising to re-evaluate or possibly kill the agreement. But the latest re-certification indicates that, despite the views of some hawkish Trump aides, those who favor upholding the deal have the upper hand for now.
The 2015 agreement relaxed a range of U.S. and international nuclear-related sanctions on Iran on the condition that the government in Tehran dismantle its nuclear program. Iran is subject to international inspections under the deal. Congress has requested that the executive branch certify every 90 days whether Iran is complying.
Unlike Obama’s attempts to engage the longtime U.S. nemesis, Trump has made it clear he considers Iran an implacable threat – a view reinforced by Israeli, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies of the United States. The administration is engaged in a broader review of the U.S. government’s policies toward Iran, and it’s not yet clear when that will be finished.
On Monday, even as they said Iran was complying with the deal, senior administration officials took steps to bash the agreement, pointing out, for instance, that its provisions are not permanent. Although the agreement is strictly about Iran’s nuclear program, the officials argued that Tehran was "unquestionably in default of the spirit" of the deal because of its interference in neighboring countries, its human rights abuses and other activities.
Officials on Monday did not say when the new round of sanctions would be imposed. The U.S. argues that it retains the right to impose non-nuclear related sanctions on Iran despite the 2015 agreement. But such moves could lead Tehran to allege that Washington is the one violating the spirit of the deal — and prompt its ultimate unraveling.
Asked if the administration wants to see regime change in Iran, one official said: "We’re looking for a change in the regime’s behavior."
The Trump administration last certified that Iran was in compliance with the nuclear agreement in April. That announcement was coupled with a press conference in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denounced Iran’s human rights violations, sponsorship of terrorism and ballistic missile tests.
The United States still has a range of non-nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, and Trump has beefed those up. In May, the administration announced it would keep waiving nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, but that it was imposing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its ballistic missile program.
The nuclear agreement was negotiated with the participation of other leading countries, including Germany, Russia and China. And for now, those other countries have urged Trump not to weaken or abandon the deal.
Madeline Conway contributed to this report.