By Mark Najarian
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump blasted Iran, calling it a “rogue regime” run by “fanatical” leaders, but he stopped short of immediately pulling the United States out of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord signed with global powers.
Trump, giving a long-awaited Iran-policy speech on October 13, also announced “tough sanctions” on Iran’s hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) for what he called its support for war and terror abroad, something many observers had speculated on and which Tehran warned would bring a "proportionate response" from its side.
The president did not designate the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization, however.
Although Trump did not pull out of the nuclear deal, he did threaten to walk away from the multilateral accord later if the administration, working with Congress and U.S. allies, cannot eliminate the deal’s “many serious flaws.”
Under U.S. law, the president is required every 90 days to certify whether Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal.
Trump said that, “based on the factual record, I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification. We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and a very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.”
To address the flaws in the deal and counter Iran’s activities, Trump said he will call on Congress to strengthen the U.S. law -- known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) -- which runs alongside the nuclear deal and was passed by Congress in response to the international nuclear agreement.
U.S. officials said Trump would ask lawmakers to set "firm trigger points" related to Iran's nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs, the crossing of which would immediately and automatically reimpose sanctions against Iran.
Congress will have 60 days to consider any amendments to the INARA.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani said in a televised address that the United States is “standing against an international treaty” and that it would lead to its isolation.
"Today the United States is more than ever opposed to the nuclear deal and more than ever against the Iranian people," Rohani said.
He said that as long as Iran’s interests are preserved, Tehran will remain with the deal, and he rejected the inclusion of any new clauses to the agreement. He added that he continued to support the IRGC.
Trump asserted that “in the event that we cannot reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated…Our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.”
He slammed Tehran for what he said were violations of the “spirit” of the accord, in part for its continued testing of ballistic missiles and its support for extremists in the Middle East.
“While the United States adheres to our commitment under the deal,” he said, “the Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond.”
Along with amending the INARA, Trump announced further nonspecific steps as part of his “new strategy to address the full range of Iran’s destructive actions.”
He said the United States will work with allies to counter Iran’s “destabilizing activity” and support for “terrorist proxies,” place additional sanctions on Tehran to block its financing of terror, and address the “regime’s proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors.”
He said he will deny the Iranians “all paths” to a nuclear weapon.
In the 2015 deal, signed during the U.S. presidency of Barack Obama, Tehran agreed to curtail its nuclear activities in exchange for relief from international sanctions. Other signatories to the accord are Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
U.S. officials said sanctions reimposed under INARA would not necessarily remove the United States from the multilateral nuclear accord.
Trump cited as a major flaw the so-called “sunset” clauses in the nuclear accord that set expiration dates for some restrictions against Tehran in the nuclear deal. He said he would work to eliminate the clauses from the accord.
“In just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint toward a rapid nuclear weapons breakout,” Trump said.
“We got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short-term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons."
Mara Karlin, a former senior U.S. Defense Department official involved in policy, strategy, and planning for Middle East affairs under both Democratic and Republican administrations, said Trump’s actions represented “a lot of bluster with not a lot of change.”
“It seems as though we went through this giant hullabaloo, where the president was threatening to tear up this deal, per his political promises throughout the election and afterward,” she told RFE/RL.
“And instead what he’s choosing to do is really defer his power to Congress.”
“So the Washington story is this is a diminution of executive power. The Europe story is the European allies have been really put through the ringer for not terribly much,” she added.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Trump’s proposed changes would not remove the United States from the nuclear accord and that he expects to introduce new INARA amendments within two weeks.
He added that he expects one of the amendments to change the certification requirement from every 90 days to every 180 days.
Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, who voted against the nuclear deal in 2015, said Trump’s plan “doesn't make sense.”
“Negotiating additional terms to the nuclear deal requires a coalition of international partners, not unilateral congressional action,” said the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Iran must never have a nuclear weapon. To ensure that, we must strictly enforce the nuclear deal, work to lengthen its sunset provisions, and hold Iran's feet to the fire on the regime's other bad behavior,” he added.
But House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration was "fatally flawed" and that he supported Trump’s decision to reexamine the accord.
Influential Republican Senator John McCain, often a Trump critic, said in a statement that "the goals President Trump presented in his speech today are a welcomed long overdue change."
"For years, the Iranian regime has literally been getting away with murder. Meanwhile, the United States has lacked a comprehensive strategy to meet the multifaceted threat Iran poses," McCain said.
U.S. allies and other countries also weighed in on Trump’s statement and his threats to the nuclear accord.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the nuclear deal is a “robust agreement” that is working and cannot be terminated by any one leader.
"The president of the United States has many powers. Not this one," she added.
In a joint statement, the leaders of France, Britain, and Germany warned the United States against making decisions that could harm the nuclear deal.
“We encourage the U.S. administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the U.S. and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the [accord], such as reimposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement," it said.
The statement was signed by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was "extremely troubling" that Trump was raising questions that had been settled when an international deal on Iran's nuclear program was signed, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
Saudi Arabia, a major Middle East rival of the Iranian government, said it supports Trump’s "firm strategy" and “aggressive policy” toward Tehran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the U.S. president’s decision, calling it a “courageous” and “bold” move.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Mike Eckel, AP, and AFP