President Donald Trump on Friday decertified the Iran nuclear deal, calling on Congress to address the “many serious flaws” of the landmark agreement or else he will end it.
“We cannot and will not make this certification,” Trump said from the White House Friday. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
It was a sternly worded announcement, delivered by Trump through gritted teeth, that characterized the Obama-era deal as a “political and economic lifeline” for Iran — which he claimed, contrary to what his own secretary of state said a day earlier, was not fulfilling the terms of the accord.
Here’s what Trump did on Friday — and what it means for the United States and Iran going forward.
What is the Iran nuclear deal?
The landmark deal — brokered by then-President Barack Obama in 2015 — stipulates that the U.S. will open up tens of billions of dollars of Iran’s assets in exchange for the country reducing its uranium enrichment centrifuges and stockpile by 98%.
At the time, Obama told Mic that the deal “prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon” and helps keep the U.S. from having to conduct a potential military strike on the country.
But Republicans argued that the deal was too soft on Iran, and Trump — one of the most vocal critics of the agreement — vowed during the campaign to “rip it up.”
He strongly suggested in a September address to the United Nations General Assembly that he would pull the U.S. out of the deal — even though the administration had found Iran to be compliant with its terms.
“Frankly, that deal was an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it,” Trump said. “Believe me.”
On Friday, he once again claimed that Iran had committed “multiple violations” of the deal — directly contradicting what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said Thursday — and said that the deal provided the regime with an “immediate financial boost” that they’ve used to sponsor terrorism.
He called on Congress to strengthen the deal so that the “Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons” and said that if they didn’t, he would terminate the deal. He also imposed new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
The issue now goes to the gridlock-plagued Congress, which will essentially be tasked with quickly reworking an approach to Iran that had been several years in the making.
“As president of the United States, my highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people,” Trump said Friday. “The longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes.”
Trump’s move on Iran “isolates” the U.S.
But America’s ability to address the Iranian threat would likely be weakened if Trump were to follow through on his tough talk, according to Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, a visiting clinical assistant professor of global affairs at New York University’s School of Professional Studies.
“It’s difficult to fathom what the grand strategy here is,” he said. “Basically, what Trump’s decision is going to do is it will isolate the U.S. from any kind of process on Iran.”
That’s because it’s not just the U.S. and Iran in the deal — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China are all signed onto it as well, and appear to be committed to it.
“We cannot afford as an international community, as Europe for sure, to dismantle a nuclear agreement that is working and delivering,” Federica Mogherini, foreign policy chief of the European Union, said Friday. “The international community, and the European Union with it, has clearly indicated that the deal is, and will, continue to be in place.” Britain’s Theresa May, Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron have also said they remain “committed” to the agreement.
Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani has also said that his country “will continue to stick to” the terms of the deal, according to the Associated Press.
The deal could survive a U.S. withdrawal, in other words, and any unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. may not be strong enough to exert much influence on Iran.
As such, a potential withdrawal from the deal on Trump’s part likely would only serve to further isolate the U.S. from its European allies — and reduce its influence in the Middle East.
Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed Trump’s announcement Friday, saying the decision to decertify “will cost us leverage,” “weaken our unity with our allies” and “damage our credibility.”
“It constitutes an unfounded and unnecessary threat to America’s national security — one that inflicts lasting damage to American global leadership,” Biden wrote in a Facebook post. “Unilaterally putting the deal at risk does not isolate Iran. It isolates us.”