President Donald Trump will not certify that Iran is adhering to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international nuclear agreement that went into effect in 2015, but will not pull out of the pact, administration officials said.
Trump is scheduled to outline the new approach in a speech on Oct. 13.
"We will stand in the JCPOA, but the president is going to decertify under [the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015]," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Oct. 12, referring to the law passed by Congress to provide oversight of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The law requires the U.S. to certify that Iran is adhering to the deal every 90 days. "The president has come to the conclusion that he cannot certify under INRA that the sanctions relief that was provided is proportionate to, in effect, the benefit that we're seeing from that agreement."
Tillerson said that decision presents three possible alternatives for Congress. It can choose not to act. It can choose to impose sanctions which may put the entire JCPOA in question. Or it can take the administration's preferred approach and amend INRA to put in place "some very firm trigger points…that if Iran crosses any of these trigger points, the sanctions automatically go back into place," without requiring any additional action. Tillerson did not define any specific trigger points.
The secretary of state said Congress will be asked to impose expiration dates on various JCPOA provisions.
"There are two or three dates under which certain activities that Iran is prohibited from carrying out, they now can resume those activities," said National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. "In effect, as you've heard the president talk about it … what we really have is a countdown clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons development program. That sounds an awful lot like some North Korean deals that we've seen in the past."
Tillerson said the proposed INRA amendments would outlive the JCPOA itself, and approval of those measures could bring Iran back to the bargaining table. The amendments would also serve notice on the other parties to the agreement that the U.S. is seeking action on the dates McMaster cited as problematic and Iran's ballistic missile program. While Tillerson acknowledged that Iran will not want to reopen the existing agreement, "it more likely means that we would undertake an initiative to have a new agreement that doesn't replace the JCPOA, but addresses these two issues and lays along beside the JCPOA.
"Again, that's going to require everybody's willingness to engage on these issues," he said. "I don't want to suggest to you that we give that a high chance of success, but there is an openness to talk about it."
President Trump will also grant the U.S. Treasury Department broad authority to act on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, a branch of the Iranian armed forces.
"He is directing the Treasury Department to impose sanctions for the [IRGC's] support of terrorist activities in the region," Tillerson said. "These will be targeted sanctions against individuals, possible entities that are owned or partially owned by the IRGC, that are directly supporting these terrorist activities, whether it's weapons exports or weapons components or cyber activity or movement of weapons or fighters around."