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Trump Extends Sanctions Relief Under Iran Nuclear Deal, But Threatens Pullout

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump says he will extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, leaving the accord intact for now, but his administration targeted a high-profile Iranian for new nonnuclear sanctions.

The president said in a statement on January 12 that he was granting the waiver for the "last" time and insisted that changes must be negotiated with European partners within 120 days to strengthen the accord or that the United States would likely pull out.

"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," he said in his statement.

"This is a last chance. In the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately," he said.

"Either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw," he added.

At the same time, Trump's administration said the United States would impose other new, targeted sanctions on 14 persons and entities not directly tied to the nuclear accord.

The sanctions are related to "serious human rights" abuses, censorship, and weapons issues, a Treasury Department spokesperson said.

The biggest name included in the new sanctions was Sadeq Larijani, head of the Iranian judiciary and brother of Ali Larijani, who is speaker of the Iranian parliament.

Iran's chief of judiciary Sadeq Larijani (file photo)
Iran's chief of judiciary Sadeq Larijani (file photo)

The Treasury said Larijani was "responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, the commission of serious human rights abuses against persons in Iran or Iranian citizens or residents."

After the U.S. president’s announcement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that "Trump's policy & today's announcement amount to desperate attempts to undermine a solid multilateral agreement."

He added that the nuclear deal "is not renegotiable: rather than repeating tired rhetoric, US must bring itself into full compliance-- just like Iran."

The deal between Iran and the six countries -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- was signed in 2015 under the previous administration of Barack Obama in order to curb Tehran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

During his presidential campaign and into his term of office, Trump has said he opposes the deal, claiming that Tehran has violated the "spirit" of the accord.

Trump refused to recertify the deal in October and has threatened to withdraw the United States if what he calls serious flaws in the accord cannot be fixed by U.S. lawmakers and U.S. allies.

"I have been very clear about my opinion of that deal," he said in his January 12 statement. "It gave Iran far too much in exchange for far too little."

Iran has said its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful uses. It has said it will abide by the agreement as long as other signatories do, but warned that it would "shred" the deal should Washington pull out.

European Pressure

European signatories to the deal have pressured the United States to stick to the accord.

In a phone call on January 11, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed to Trump the importance of adhering to the deal, pointing out his country's "determination in favor of a strict application of the agreement and the importance of its respect by all of its signatories."

The White House said Trump underscored to Macron that Iran must cease its "destabilizing activity" in the region, including its support for terrorism.

Trump's announcement on sanctions came one day before a deadline expired for the administration to make a decision on the issue.

Under U.S. law, the sanctions can be waived for a maximum of 120 days, meaning the U.S. government must review the situation every four months.

Among the changes Trump is demanding is that Iran allow more timely inspections of sites requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and an elimination of so-called "sunset clauses," under which some of the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program expire over time.

In addition, the deal must state that Iran's nuclear effort and its missile programs are inseparable. U.S. and other officials have complained that Iran's ballistic-missile program can easily be converted for nuclear use.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Mike Eckel