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U.S. Might Say Iran Violating Nuclear Deal Without Withdrawing, Envoy Says

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks about the Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2017.

The United States might find Iran in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement next month, but that does not mean Washington is withdrawing from the agreement, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on September 5.

Under U.S. law, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days whether Iran is in compliance with curbs on its nuclear activities required in exchange for international sanctions relief under the deal.

The next deadline is October, and U.S. President Donald Trump has said he thinks by then the United States will find Iran out of compliance.

"If the President chooses not to certify Iranian compliance, that does not mean the United States is withdrawing" from the deal, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley told the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington.

"We will stay in a deal as long as it protects the security of the United States," she said.

The Trump administration has already certified twice that Iran is complying with the deal. Haley said she doesn't know what Trump will say next month.

"Should he decide to decertify, he has grounds to stand on," she said. "It is a very flawed and very limited agreement... Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half."

In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, Haley suggested one area the United States might cite is Iran's ballistic missile tests, which Tehran insists are not covered by the agreement.

"You can call it non-nuclear all you want: Missile technology cannot be separate from pursuit of a nuclear weapon," Haley said.

U.S. officials in the past have maintained that Iran's missile tests violate the "spirit" of the nuclear deal, but have not argued that they constitute actual violations. Tehran maintains the missile tests are for self-defense.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N Nikki Haley Spoke At American Enterprise Institute
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The United States has imposed a series of sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile tests since the deal was signed in 2015.

But in case of pulling out of the nuclear deal, it might be hard for the U.S. to get cooperation from its allies to re-impose stringent sanctions.

Allies in Europe are pushing Washington to stay in the deal. Answering a question, Haley said, "This is about U.S. national security. This is not about European security".

France's U.S. ambassador was quick to react shortly after Haley's speech. Gerard Araud wrote on Twitter: " The Iran deal is about the nuclear issue, nothing else. So far, Iran is abiding by the commitments taken in this mutually agreed framework."

Haley also suggested that in case president Trump decides not to certify Iran's compliance, he may leave it to Congress to decide on the fate of the deal.

That would re-open a possibility of Congress re-imposing nuclear sanctions, which could be interpreted as U.S. leaving the nuclear agreement.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned last month that Iran could abandon the nuclear agreement "within hours" if the United States imposes any more sanctions over the missile tests.

Haley said that threat shows that "Iran's leaders want to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage to its bad behavior."

With reporting by AP and Reuters