WASHINGTON — President Trump unveiled a sweeping and aggressive new policy toward Iran on Friday, saying he will not re-certify the nuclear deal signed in 2015 and calling for a variety of new sanctions against the government in Tehran.
"As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into," Trump said during a speech at the White House.
Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House on March 15, 2017, before boarding Marine One.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP
Saying the Islamic government in Tehran is dedicated to "death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe," Trump announced that the United States is adding new sanctions directed against Iran's Revolutionary Guard, which he called a supporter of international terror. The president also said he has started an investigation into whether Iran is cooperating with North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
The move, which Trump had hinted at for months, stirred immediate opposition from some of the United States' major allies, as the governments of France, Germany and United Kingdom all said they still back the nuclear agreement.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, denounced Trump's speech, saying in a nationally televised address that it "contained nothing but expletives and a pile of delusional allegations against the Iranian nation."
Rouhani, despite criticizing Trump's speech, said Iran will continue to adhere to the agreement.
Despite Trump's claims of a nine-month review of Iran strategy, the new plan doesn't change much, some foreign policy analysts said. The nuclear deal still stands, and there are no signs Congress and Iran are willing to change it.
"The entire process he just put us through did great damage," said Ilan Goldenberg, Middle East Security Director with the Center for a New American Security. "He shook pretty much everybody's confidence."
Goldenberg, who worked on Iran issues at the Pentagon during President Barack Obama's administration, said Trump and his team "basically managed to alienate everyone, without really accomplishing anything."
Trump did not ask Congress to re-impose economic sanctions on Iran right away, but he did call for new requirements on Iran in an effort to "strengthen enforcement" of the agreement he has long criticized.
If there is no deal with Congress and U.S. allies, Trump said, "the agreement will be terminated." He then told reporters after the speech he is still willing to rip up the deal, but "we'll see what happens."
European leaders want to keep the deal. In the joint French-German-British statement, they said they have asked their foreign ministers to "consider with the US how to take these issues forward."
Dumping issue on Congress
Trump called the new approach part of a new strategy to deal with what he called the Iranian "dictatorship," even though Iran has a government that is more democratic than some U.S. allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia. He cited the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and other threats.
He also contradicted the recent comments of secretaries of Defense Jim Mattis and State Rex Tillerson that Iran has complied with the nuclear deal, when he claimed Iran has tried to evade the agreements requirements.
Some Trump critics described the Iran plan as part of pattern: He chips away at various programs, whether it's health care, immigration, or the Iran deal, then throws the issues to Congress to accept or change.
“I wish containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions was a task as easy as some politicians make it seem," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. "The Iran Nuclear Agreement is not perfect, but remains our best chance for lasting peace and nuclear nonproliferation in Iran."
Trump backers applauded the president for seeking to get tough with Iran and improve the nuclear agreement.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said he backs legislation to address "the major flaws in the original Iran deal: the sunset clauses, the weak inspections regime, and the failure to restrict Iran's development of advanced centrifuges."
Trump faced a Sunday deadline to certify the agreement. Every 90 days, the president must certify that Iran is in compliance of the deal.
Tillerson said the United States wants to fix problems in the agreement, but that Trump is "not particularly optimistic" about the chances.
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The United States signed the agreement in 2015 along with Russia, China, Germany, France and Great Britain. It called for the elimination of economic sanctions Iran in exchange for Tehran giving up its nuclear weapons program.
Rouhani, who says Iran's nuclear program has always been designed for peaceful energy purposes, said in September that international trust in the United States will be damaged if it walks away from the deal.
That's because, Rouhani told NBC News, so many countries had analyzed the deal in great detail before it was signed.
And allies fear that killing the agreement could prompt Iran to resume its nuclear weapons program, perhaps triggering a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East.
Options for Congress
De-certification does not kill the deal outright; that would be up to Congress.
Tillerson said lawmakers have three options:
• Do nothing and refuse to put new sanctions on Iran, which would preserve the current agreement.
• Re-impose economic sanctions, which would kill the deal.
• Push to negotiate new terms that Trump believes will "put more teeth" in the demands on Iran.
One possible provision would be adding "trigger points," new rules that would lead to an immediate re-imposition of sanctions if Iran violates them. One example, Tillerson said, would be development of prohibited ballistic missiles.
Some U.S. officials also want to eliminate "sunset provisions" in the existing agreement, which allow Iran to resume its nuclear program after a decade or more.
There is no sign U.S. allies or Iran have any interest in new talks, much less a new deal.
Multiple issues with Iran
The Trump administration is concerned with more than just the nuclear agreement, Tillerson said. Trump and his aides have criticized Iran's ballistic missile program, which is not covered by the nuclear deal, as well as its support for what they call terrorism and efforts to destabilize Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
They have also cited Iranian threats toward Israel, a notably vocal opponent of the nuclear agreement.
Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said they have discussed their new Iran approach with members of Congress. While a new agreement may not be possible, they said some lawmakers have been receptive, and improving the agreement is worth a try in any case.
Said McMaster: "Nobody's for Iran getting nuclear weapons."
The Trump presidency: A new era in Washington
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French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump speak as they leave Les Invalides in Paris on July 13, 2017.
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President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi embrace while delivering joint statements in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 26, 2017.
The Trumps watch as Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and his wife, Lorena Castillo, depart the White House on June 19, 2017.
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Pope Francis greets Trump at the Vatican on May 24, 2017.
The president and first lady step off Air Force One upon arrival at Rome's Fiumicino Airport on May 23, 2017.
Trump touches the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on May 22, 2017.
Trump speaks during the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017.
Trump meets with Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017.
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President Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association-ILA Leadership Forum on April 28, 2017, in Atlanta.
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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, President Trump, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Patriots President Jonathan Kraft stand with Patriots players as Trump holds a team helmet at a ceremony honoring the Patriots as Super Bowl champions on the South Lawn at the White House on April 19, 2017.
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President Trump walks to the podium to speak about the missile strike on Syria on April 6, 2017, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla.
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President Trump speaks during a meeting with Congressional Black Caucus members in the Cabinet Room at the White House on March 22, 2017.
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The Trumps attend a campaign-style rally on Feb. 18, 2017, in Melbourne, Fla.
President Trump walks with his grandchildren Arabella Kushner and Joseph Kushner to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 17, 2017.
Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on Feb. 15, 2017.
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Trump meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office on Feb. 13, 2017.
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The Trumps arrive for the 60th Annual Red Cross Gala at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., on on Feb. 4, 2017.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Vice President Pence look on as Trump speaks briefly to reporters after greeting Harley Davidson executives on the South Lawn of the White House on Feb. 2, 2017.
Trump shakes hands with Neil Gorsuch, his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House on Jan. 31, 2017.
President Trump speaks on the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office on Jan. 28, 2017.
Trump shakes hands with Defense Secretary James Mattis during an event at the Pentagon on Jan. 27, 2017. Vice President Pence is at right.
Trump greets British Prime Minister Theresa May as she arrives at the White House on Jan. 27, 2017.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell watch as President Trump arrives to speak to House and Senate GOP lawmakers at the annual policy retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 2017.
Trump boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Jan. 26, 2017, as he departed to attend a Republican congressional retreat in Philadelphia.
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Trump signs executive actions in the Oval Office on Jan. 23, 2017.
Trump meets with business leaders on Jan. 23, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room.
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The Trumps and Pences attend the Freedom Ball on Jan. 20, 2017.
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Trump and Obama arrive for Trump's inauguration luncheon at the Capitol.
The Trumps and Obamas stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017.
Trump delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 2017, on the west front of the U.S. Capitol
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