WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump will not pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, despite offering blistering criticism of Tehran, U.S. officials say.
In a White House statement outlining elements of a new strategy to counter Tehran hours before the address, Trump said that it was "time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran's government end its pursuit of death and destruction."
Although Trump will not pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 Iranian nuclear deal signed along with six world powers, he will ask Congress to toughen a separate U.S. law (the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA) that runs alongside the nuclear accord.
INARA would automatically impose sanctions against Iran should it go past "firm trigger points" related to its ballistic-missile program, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a briefing ahead of Trump's planned policy statement on Iran.
Trump is expected to speak about the issue on October 13 at 12:45 Washington time.
In the speech, Tillerson said, Trump will confirm that Iran remains in "technical" compliance with the terms of the nuclear deal, therefore preventing the United States from withdrawing from the accord, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Trump has long said Tehran may be complying with the terms of the deal but is not acting in the "spirit" of the accord because of its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs and its alleged meddling in the affairs of its Middle East neighbors.
"It is intended that we will stay in the JCPOA, but the president is going to decertify under INARA," Tillerson said. "The president has come to the conclusion that he cannot certify under INARA that the sanctions relief provided is proportionate to an effective benefit we are seeing."
He said the president will ask lawmakers to amend INARA to put in place "very firm trigger points" that would automatically reimpose sanctions should Tehran "cross" those red lines, which he did not specify.
No other actions would be required if it is determined that trigger points are invoked. The trigger points are specific to the nuclear program and the ballistic-missile program, Tillerson said.
He also said the president will ask Congress to eliminate specific "sunset dates" that establish expiration dates for matters related to Iran's nuclear program, meaning the restrictions would go on indefinitely.
Tillerson said any sanctions related to INARA would not affect the JCPOA, which is certified every 120 days by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and can be used in a "productive way" to meet U.S. goals.
But the JCPOA, which was also signed by Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia, "deals with nuclear activities only," Tillerson said. "We've talked about how that's only one piece of what concerns us about the relationship with Iran."
Officials in Russia, Germany, and France reacted by pledging their continued support for the Iran agreement.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assured his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, of Russia's "total commitment" to the nuclear deal, Interfax reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on October 13 that U.S. moves against the nuclear deal would have "very negative consequences" and would "seriously exacerbate the situation" surrounding the Iran nuclear issue.
A government spokesman in Berlin said Germany considered the Iran pact an "important instrument" to prevent Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and that German officials will "continue to work for its full implementation."
The French Foreign Ministry said in an October 13 statement that the Iranian nuclear deal was "a solid, robust, and verifiable tool guaranteeing that Iran will not get nuclear weapons."
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said during a visit to Moscow that any U.S. move against the nuclear deal would be an insult to the United Nations, which sponsored the talks that led to the agreement. He also said any revision of the deal could lead to Iran not adhering to "our obligations."
Reports say Trump will urge Congress to pass legislation setting new, tougher requirements that Tehran must meet to continue to benefit from sanctions relief.
Trump will also ask Congress to amend or replace legislation that requires him every 90 days to certify that Iran is in compliance with the accord, a requirement officials say Trump has long opposed, the officials said.
The White House statement issued ahead of the address set out elements of a strategy designed to neutralize the Iranian government's "destabilizing influence," constrain "its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants," and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
It said the Trump administration would work to deny Iran -- particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- the funds it needs to conduct "malign activities" and to oppose IRGC activities that "extort the wealth of the Iranian people."
The statement did not say whether it would declare the IRGC a terrorist organization, something the Iranian government has warned the Trump administration not to do or to face a "proportionate response."
The Trump administration said it would also "rally the international community" to condemn the IRGC's "gross violation of human rights and its unjust detention" of U.S. citizens and other foreigners on what it called "specious charges."
The statement added that most importantly, it would "deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon."
The July 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia -- puts limits on Iran’s nuclear program in return for the easing of economic sanctions.
Trump has repeatedly denounced the deal, which was negotiated and signed under President Barack Obama's administration, and told the UN General Assembly last month that it was "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into."
Under U.S. law, the administration is required every 90 days to recertify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal and that the agreement remains in the U.S. national interest. The Trump administration has twice in the past certified that Iran is complying.
Congress To Decide
Media reports say the president this time under an October 15 deadline will announce that he is decertifying Iran while not formally pulling the United States out of the deal.
That move would give the Republican-controlled Congress 60 days to decide whether to reinstate sanctions on Tehran that were suspended under the agreement, a development that would amount to withdrawing from the deal.
While Congress could vote to reimpose sanctions, sentiment among lawmakers has been building recently in favor of keeping the deal in place, even among Republicans and Democrats who originally opposed it when Congress voted on it in 2015, media have reported.
Trump and other administration officials have repeatedly said that, while Iran may be complying with actual terms of the pact, it has not acted in the "spirit" of the accord, including by continuing to test-launch ballistic missiles and rockets capable of carrying nuclear warheads and by meddling in the affairs of its Middle East neighbors.
Tehran says its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes, including power generation.
Most Democrats and some Republicans, including members of Trump’s national security team, have expressed concerns about pulling out of the accord, saying it could hurt U.S. credibility on the world stage.
The U.S. officials said that, along with discussing the nuclear accord, Trump in his speech will also point out many complaints regarding Iran's nonnuclear activities.
Among those will be the country's ballistic-missile program and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country's civil war.
Tillerson also cited Iran's alleged support of extremist organizations, including Hizballah in Lebanon, support for the Huthi in Yemen and for the overthrow of the Yemeni government, and Tehran's export of foreign fighters to the region.
Tillerson said by amending the INARA, it would set the changes into U.S. law that could not be changed by a future president, unless altered by Congress and the president together.