WASHINGTON — The Donald Trump administration waived nuclear-related sanctions on Iran today, even as senior administration officials stressed the action should not be seen as a sign that the president will ultimately support his predecessor’s nuclear agreement with Tehran.
Trump has not yet decided whether he will certify Iran’s continued compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) next month, US officials said.
“We have to consider the totality of Iran’s activities and not let our view be defined solely by the nuclear agreement,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told journalists at a media appearance with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in London today.
“No final decision’s been made,” Tillerson said, referring to the US interagency review of its broader policy on Iran.
In a sign of Trump’s deep ambivalence about the deal, the sanctions waivers were announced today by US officials on a background call where they also announced that the Treasury Department has blacklisted 11 Iranian entities and individuals allegedly linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) ballistic missile program and cyberhacking of US financial institutions prior to 2013. Seven of the alleged hackers designated today were originally charged by the Justice Department in 2016 during the Barack Obama administration.
“The Trump administration is fully committed to addressing the totality of malign activities attributable to the Iran regime and its proxies,” a senior administration official, speaking not for attribution, told journalists on the call today. “It seeks to bring about a change in the Iranian regime’s behavior.”
“The JCPOA is just one of Iran’s activities to address,” the US official said. “We believe the previous policy was focused too much on nuclear, not the totality … [including] destabilizing activities of the IRGC.”
An interagency review of Iran policy is largely done but awaits some presidential decisions, he said.
“In terms of the policy review, the president has not yet made a final decision on the shape of the new policy,” the senior administration official said. “There are still a few key areas where he and the principals are exploring options, including the ultimate decision pertaining to JCPOA.”
However, later in the day, Trump derided the deal as “one of the worst” he’d ever seen.
“We are not going to stand for what they are doing to this country,” Trump told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One. “They have violated so many different elements, but they’ve also violated the spirit of that deal. And you will see what we’ll be doing in October. It will be very evident.”
Tillerson, speaking in London after conferring with British counterparts about Libya, Syria, Iran, North Korea and Hurricane Irma, said broader US Iran policy should not be dictated by the nuclear deal.
But Johnson said it is important for Iran to see that economic benefits result from the nuclear deal. He also said that upholding the Iran nuclear agreement was important as the international community seeks to grapple with the North Korean nuclear threat.
“The North Korean crisis shows the importance of having arrangements such as the JCPOA,” Johnson said. “That’s why it’s important that we make it work and that we keep it alive.”
“And there are two aspects to this,” Johnson said. “As Secretary Tillerson has just said, the Iranians have got to behave and fulfill their side of the bargain. And, of course, on the other side, we in the UK think it very important that Iran … should see that there are benefits, economic benefits from the JCPOA as well. So we in the UK want to keep that alive, and that’s certainly a point that we have been making to Rex and others in the US.”