Trump to abstain from new Iran sanctions - for now

US leader expected to give allies deadline to improve nuclear deal

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has again stopped short of reimposing draconian sanctions on Iran that could break up its nuclear deal with world powers, two people briefed on his decision said, but he is expected to give Congress and European allies a deadline to improve the deal or the United States will pull out of it.

He also approved targeted sanctions against several Iranian government officials for corruption and human rights abuses, some related to anti-government protests that have convulsed Iranian cities this month, the sources said.

Mr Trump's action, which the White House was set to announce yesterday, is the third time he has given a reprieve to the agreement brokered by former president Barack Obama, despite having labelled it "the worst deal ever" and threatening repeatedly to rip it up.

His reluctance to preserve the agreement deepened in recent weeks after the protests, in which at least 21 people have died and thousands have been jailed. But his senior aides again persuaded him not to dissolve it, as did European allies, who said Iran was still abiding by the terms of the deal and that breaching it would play into the hands of hardliners in the country.

Several officials said they expected Mr Trump to warn that he would not waive the sanctions again unless Congress agreed on legislation to tighten the nuclear deal.

He is also expected to demand that European leaders fall in line - something that seems even less likely after the unrest in Iran.

Still, Mr Trump's expected action is most important for what he will not do: reinstate sanctions on Iran's central bank and oil exports, which were lifted in return for constraining its nuclear programme.

Mr Trump faces a series of deadlines starting yesterday related to the nuclear deal and sanctions that were waived as a result of it. The first of those deadlines - for extending or terminating the waiver for the central bank and oil sanctions - is by the far the most significant.

Mr Trump faces a series of deadlines starting yesterday related to the nuclear deal and sanctions that were waived as a result of it. The first of those deadlines - for extending or terminating the waiver for the central bank and oil sanctions - is by the far the most significant.

In October, Mr Trump refused to certify the agreement - a decision he is expected to reaffirm next week. At the time, the President warned that he would take further action to nullify the deal if Congress and the allies did not act.

Republicans in the Senate have drafted legislation that would amend the deal by eliminating its "sunset provisions", under which Iran is allowed to resume activities like enriching uranium. But they have so far been unable to bridge gaps with the Democratic caucus.

There is also no evidence that the Europeans have the appetite to reopen the deal.

On Thursday, hours before Mr Trump made his decision, European foreign ministers met in Brussels with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, ostensibly to press Teheran about its destabilising activities in the region, which are putting the nuclear deal at risk. There were images of a smiling Mr Zarif, seated among smiling European officials, followed by a parade of statements in favour of the deal.

In a phone call, French President Emmanuel Macron also urged Mr Trump not to scrap the deal. Mr Macron "reaffirmed France's determination to see the agreement strictly enforced and the importance for all of its signatories to abide by it", his office said.

To some in Washington, the meeting amounted to a show of unity between Europe and Iran - and of defiance towards the United States.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline 'Trump to abstain from new Iran sanctions - for now'. Print Edition | Subscribe