Trump’s Big Decision on Nuclear Deal in May

March 20, 2018

President Donald Trump has warned that he would withdraw from the nuclear deal if the United States and European partners cannot agree on changes to the agreement. Since he issued his ultimatum on January 12, diplomats have been working to find common ground. In early March, the State Department’s policy planning director, Brian Hook, reportedly traveled to Europe to meet with British, French and German officials. The administration is aiming to sign a supplemental agreement with those countries that deals with the so-called “sunset” clauses and Iran’s missile program.

Trump will have to decide if the United States will continue to implement the deal by May 12. If Trump does not waive sanctions then, the United States will be in violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The following are recent remarks by U.S. officials and lawmakers on the pending decision and potential consequences.


President Donald Trump

President Trump“Well, we’re going to see what happens.”

“You’re going to see what I do.”

“But Iran has not been treating that part of the world or the world itself appropriately. A lot of bad things are happening in Iran. The deal is coming up in one month, and you’ll see what happens. Okay?”

—March 20, 2018, to reporters, according to The Washington Post


Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus

“I would not necessarily draw a foregone conclusion that we’re out this month.”

“To suggest that it’s a foregone conclusion that we’ll be out in weeks would be inaccurate based on my conversations with some of my colleagues on Capitol Hill, both Democrat and Republican.”

“If I had to handicap it, I would believe there’d be a short-term extension as we look to re-negotiate an agreement, even though the parties to those agreements have said re-negotiation is not on the table.”

“Knowing that the deadlines on some of this correspond to key discussions on trade with China and denuclearization talks with North Korea, I can see a deferral more than an outright withdrawal being a tactic that is used right now.”

—May 3, 2018, in an interview with The Daily Beast


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

“If the president decides not to sign that (waiver), it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily pulling out of the deal. What it means is that the primary and secondary sanctions will go back in place.”

—April 11, 2018, to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee


Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN)

CORKER: The Iran deal will be another issue that's coming up in May, and-- right now it doesn't feel like it's gonna be extended. I think the president likely-- will move away from it, unless my-- our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn't feel to me that they are. Now, as we get-- within two weeks of the May 12th date, that could change. But--

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think the president's going to pull out of that Iran deal on May 12th?

CORKER: I do. I do. As I mentioned, unless something changes, I met with the ambassador from U.K. yesterday to talk a little bit about what happened, what Russia did within their country just within the last few days, and, you know, I told him that the interesting thing about all this is Europeans more than anyone else want to keep the deal in place, and yet there’s been difficulties in coming together on this framework to really deal with the sunset provisions, so –

BRENNAN: And that’s when the Iran deal expires essentially, at the end of a decade.

CORKER: That’s right.

BRENNAN: So, you had been working very closely with Rex Tillerson to try to tighten the deal and protect it from the president tearing it up. Why haven’t you been able to do that?

CORKER: Well, the only way we’re going to pass domestic – we could pass domestic sunset language and deal with ballistic missiles and deal with testing, ok. We could do that, but we can only do that if the Democrats believe that the Europeans are in agreement with that. So, we’ve really put the onus back on the administration. It’s up to them, diplomatically, to bring them along and make that happen. And until it does, there’s no way we’re going to pass legislation.

BRENNAN: Now there’s no secretary of state to do that.

CORKER: Well, and I think, of course I haven’t sat down with Pompeo yet, I hope to do so. I know we will in the next few days. We had a very nice conversation earlier this week. But I think Pompeo’s sense is that we should move away from the deal also, so he will bring a very different point of view based on what I’ve been told. I haven’t had that conversation with him. But I think he’ll bring a very different point of view than Tillerson has brought to this, and Mattis, I might add.

BRENNAN: Well, Tillerson and Mattis have been advising the president it is better to stick with this deal and this agreement with international allies, rather than blow it up. Now, you have this timeline in May where you could see the U.S. pulling out of a nuclear deal with Iran at the same time it's starting to negotiate with North Korea about its nuclear program. Do you think it makes things harder to get anywhere with North Korea?

CORKER: I-- I don't. I mean I know people--

BRENNAN: You don't think they're related?

CORKER: I-- I don't. I-- look, I-- I have used that argument, okay? But at the end of the day I think this-- this whole situation with North Korea and the way that-- it's shaping up right now is-- as I mentioned, is somewhat unorthodox, and I think you're dealing with-- a leader there that probably doesn't think the same way that other countries and their leadership might. So-- I'm not sure that it's gonna end up having a detrimental effect. …

—March 18, 2018, on CBS “Face the Nation”


Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook

“We believe we can work within the nuclear deal.”

“We are taking things one week at a time.”

“We are having very good discussions.”

—March 16, 2018, to reporters after talks with his European counterparts in Vienna, Austria


General Joseph Votel, CENTCOM commander

General Votel“The JCPOA addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran, so if the JCPOA goes away, then we will have to have another way to deal with their nuclear weapons program.”

“There would be some concern (in the region), I think, about how we intended to address that particular threat if it was not being addressed through the JCPOA. ... Right now, I think it is in our interest.”

March 13, 2018, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing