- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2018

President Trump berated former Secretary of State John F. Kerry for engaging in “possibly illegal” negotiations with Iranian officials as he revealed plans to announce Tuesday afternoon whether he is pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a highly anticipated move he has been threatening since his campaign.

European allies on Monday raised the pressure on Mr. Trump to keep the agreement they helped negotiate with Mr. Kerry and other members of the Obama administration, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hinted that Iran could remain in the 2015 nuclear deal even if Mr. Trump reimposes economic sanctions that were a key part of the deal.

Speaking live on state TV, Mr. Rouhani said “getting rid of America’s mischievous presence will be fine for Iran” — if other signatories remain committed to the pact. Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China signed the 2015 deal, and all say they still support it for its curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programs.

Mr. Trump faced a Saturday deadline from Congress on whether to extend U.S. sanctions relief for Tehran. In January, he said he was approving an extension as a last chance for Europe and the U.S. to fix the “terrible flaws” in the nuclear deal.

The White House wants signatories Germany, Britain and France to agree to permanent restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment, as well as to address Iran’s ballistic missile programs and destabilizing policies in the region not included in the nuclear pact. Under the current deal, those restrictions are set to expire in 2025.

“I will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00 pm,” the president tweeted Monday.

The president is widely expected to announce an immediate or conditional U.S. withdrawal from a deal he has long excoriated.

In an indication of the intense behind-the-scenes international discussions playing out, Mr. Kerry, President Obama’s secretary of state, admitted through a spokesman Monday that he has been talking to foreign leaders about rescuing the agreement.

“I think every American would want every voice possible urging Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear agreement that prevented a war,” the statement said.

Mr. Kerry reportedly met twice with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in recent months in a private effort to save the deal. He also met with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, met twice with French President Emmanuel Macron and has spoken by phone with European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

‘Illegal diplomacy’

His active diplomacy, first reported by The Boston Globe, has led to accusations that Mr. Kerry may have violated the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from negotiating on behalf of the U.S. government without authorization.

“Secretary Kerry stays in touch with his former counterparts around the world just like every previous secretary of state,” his spokesman said. “Like America’s closest allies, he believes it is important that the nuclear agreement, which took the world years to negotiate, remain effective as countries focus on stability in the region.”

Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Kerry created this “MESS” and questioned the legality of the former official’s engagement in diplomacy.

“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Christopher Hill, a former ambassador to Iraq and South Korea who now teaches at the University of Denver, said it was understandable that Mr. Trump would be unhappy with Mr. Kerry’s lobbying but added that there was no evidence the former secretary of state had a financial stake or hidden agenda in trying to save the deal.

“I can see why the president and a lot of people don’t like it, but we live in fraught times, and if you look around the world, [Mr. Kerry’s lobbying] is the least of it,” Mr. Hill told MSNBC.

The former diplomat was among a number of Trump critics who warned that undermining the Iran nuclear deal could make Mr. Trump’s hopes for a nuclear deal in his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un more difficult to achieve.

The agreement, which Mr. Trump has called the “worst deal ever made,” lifted economic sanctions on Iran in return for halting the Islamic regime’s nuclear program for a decade. The president has criticized the Obama administration, especially Mr. Kerry, for allowing Iran to recover $1.7 billion in cash and other money frozen in overseas accounts, and to continue to back its allies and proxies in hot spots including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Mr. Trump has convinced European partners of the urgent need to strengthen requirements on Iran, including banning missile tests and extending the moratorium on nuclear weapons development beyond 2025.

Earlier Monday, British Foreign Affairs Secretary Boris Johnson went on Mr. Trump’s favorite TV show to urge him not to quit the nuclear deal. He stressed that there is no Plan B if the U.S. withdraws from the agreement.

“The president has a legitimate point,” Mr. Johnson said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” a program that Mr. Trump views regularly. “He set a challenge for the world. We think that what you can do is be tougher on Iran.”

Mr. Johnson said ripping up the Iran deal would be like “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Similar appeals were delivered directly to Mr. Trump in visits last month by Mr. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Reimposing sanctions

Should Mr. Trump follow through on his vow to pull out of the agreement, said Heritage Foundation foreign policy specialist Nile Gardiner, “the first thing you’ll see is the reimposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran, and possible secondary sanctions which target international companies doing business with the Iranian regime.”

“The goal will be to keep Iran from gaining the funds necessary” to support its nuclear program and global terrorism, he said.

Even if Mr. Trump rejects a proposed remedy being worked out by U.S. and European officials and decides to bring back sanctions, the most drastic U.S. measures targeting Iran’s oil sales will not resume immediately.

Although the president hasn’t announced his decision, he has been signaling which way he is leaning. After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation last week detailing Iran’s past covert efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, Mr. Trump said the revelations validated his criticism of the nuclear deal.

“What’s happening today and what’s happened over the last little while and what we’ve learned has really shown that I’ve been 100 percent right,” Mr. Trump said. “That is just not an acceptable situation.”

Mr. Kerry countered that details revealed by Israel were exactly why the international community pursued the agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining such weapons.

Whatever Mr. Trump decides, France, Britain and Germany will stick to the deal because it is the best way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday after meeting with his German counterpart.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the deal, which is being policed by U.N. nuclear inspectors, “makes the world safer.” He said he would do everything possible to uphold it.

At least two avenues could offer more time for talks after Saturday. The agreement has a dispute resolution clause that provides at least 35 days to consider a claim that any party has violated its terms; it can be extended if all parties agree.

If Mr. Trump restores the core U.S. sanctions, he must wait at least 180 days under U.S. law before reimposing penalties on banks of nations that do not slash purchases of Iranian oil.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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