WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has delivered an ultimatum to America's European allies to fix the "terrible flaws" in the Iran nuclear deal, or he'll pull the U.S. out in a few months' time.
Trump made the threat Friday as he extended waivers of key economic sanctions on Iran, keeping the accord alive at least for now. But his explicit warning to Europe that the deal must be fixed by the time the next sanctions waivers are due in the spring creates a high-stakes diplomatic deadline that will be difficult to meet.
"This is a last chance," Trump warned in a statement that outlined several tough new rules on Iran. "In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal."
Trump's declaration puts great pressure on Britain, France and Germany, the European signatories to nuclear pact with Iran. Trump wants them to help the U.S. devise a new agreement designed to prevent Iran from escalating nuclear activity again next decade, as permitted under the 2015 arrangement reached by President Barack Obama.
Iran has said it's not interested in any renegotiation and would almost certainly view a side agreement between the U.S. and Europe as a violation of the deal. The Europeans, meanwhile, have said they are willing to discuss the matter with the U.S. but have shown little enthusiasm with Trump's hard line.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif accused Trump of "maliciously violating" the nuclear deal.
"Trump's policy (and) today's announcement amount to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement," Zarif tweeted shortly after Trump's statement. "Rather than repeating tired rhetoric, US must bring itself into full compliance — just like Iran."
The sanctions Trump had to waive Friday dealt with Iran's central bank. These penalties largely cut Iran out of the international financial system, until they were suspended by Obama under the nuclear deal. Trump is also waiving other U.S. penalties covered by the agreement, including on Iran's oil and gas sectors, which were up for renewal next week.
Trump will next have to deal with these decisions in mid-May.
He paired Friday's concession with other, targeted sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses and ballistic missile development. The Treasury Department's action hits 14 Iranian officials and companies and businessmen from Iran, China and Malaysia, freezing any assets they have in the U.S. and banning Americans from doing business with them.
Those hit by the sanctions include: Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani; the Rajaee Shahr Prison and its director, Gholamreza Ziaei; the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Electronic Warfare and Cyber Defense Organization; Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace and National Cyberspace Center; Malaysia-based Green Wave Telecommunication and its Iranian director Morteza Razavi; and the Iran Helicopter Support and Renewal Company and Iran Aircraft Industries.
In his lengthy statement, Trump said the U.S. would work with European partners to remove the nuclear deal's so-called "sunset clauses," which allow Iran to gradually resume advanced atomic activity.
"Today, I am waiving the application of certain nuclear sanctions, but only in order to secure our European allies' agreement to fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal," Trump said.
"If at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately," he added. "No one should doubt my word."
The decision had been expected since earlier this week. Officials, congressional aides and outside administration advisers said had the president would likely extend the sanctions waivers, citing progress in amending U.S. legislation that governs Washington's participation in the deal. One aspect of the law that Trump has particularly bristled at is having to give Iran a "thumbs up" every few months by acknowledging that it is meeting its nuclear requirements.
In his statement Friday, Trump said he remained open to revising the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA. He said he would only sign it if an Iranian refusal to allow U.N. inspectors to visit sites triggered an automatic re-imposition of U.S. sanctions. He said Iran's restraint on long-range ballistic missile programs also must be linked to sanctions relief.