President Trump Announces U.S. Will Withdraw From Iran Nuclear Deal

May 8, 2018
Originally published on May 8, 2018 10:20 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the landmark international deal curbing Iran's nuclear program.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today's action sends a critical message - the United States no longer makes empty threats.

CORNISH: The president says the deal should never have been made. Europeans lobbied hard to keep Trump in the agreement and wonder what a new round of U.S. sanctions on Iran might mean for them. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Trump says he's someone who keeps promises, and he spent a lot of time on the campaign trail bashing the previous administration for negotiating a deal he calls embarrassing. It offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits to Iran's nuclear program. And Trump says he felt the limits were too weak, and his talks with European partners in recent weeks didn't seem to change his mind.

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TRUMP: After these consultations, it is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement.

KELEMEN: He says he's ready for talks in the future with Iran, but in the meantime, he's planning to reimpose sanctions that were waived as part of the U.S. commitment to the deal, ones that could penalize other countries.

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TRUMP: We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction. Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.

KELEMEN: The Treasury Department is giving businesses some time, between 90 and 180 days, to wind down their dealings with Iran in order to comply with U.S. sanctions. Elizabeth Rosenberg was a Treasury Department official when some of these sanctions first went into force, and she says the department will have a lot of explaining to do.

ELIZABETH ROSENBERG: It's inevitable that there will be a huge amount of confusion and chaos and real frustration and dismay, which may be how this president likes to operate in the conduct of foreign policy. But it won't serve nuclear nonproliferation aims or regional security aims. And that appears to be clear to almost everyone except the White House.

KELEMEN: Even in Congress, where lawmakers have widely criticized the deal, Trump is facing questions about what's next. The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, says, like Trump, he wasn't happy that Iranian hardliners made money off the deal, but tearing it up, he warns, won't recover that cash.

ED ROYCE: That toothpaste isn't going back into the tube. It also won't help galvanize our allies into addressing Iran's dangerous activities that threaten us all. I fear a withdrawal would actually set back these efforts. And Congress has heard nothing about an alternative.

KELEMEN: Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called the move reckless. Senator Robert Menendez says Trump is upending partnerships with key allies in Europe. Senator Chris Murphy says it was like a soccer player kicking the ball into his own team's goal since Trump has no plan for what comes next. The European Union's foreign policy chief says she's determined to preserve the deal. Iran's president is instructing his foreign minister to work with Europe, Russia and China on that, signaling that the U.S. is isolated. But Trump isn't buying that.

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TRUMP: Iran's leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. They refuse, and that's fine. I'd probably say the same thing if I was in their position.

KELEMEN: But Trump says he believes Iran will eventually want to make a deal with him, and he's brushing off those who suggest that his decision on Iran could hurt upcoming talks with North Korea. Trump sent his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for a meeting. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.