President Donald Trump is expected to announce next week that he will “decertify” the international nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is not in the national interest of the United States and kicking the issue to a reluctant Congress, people briefed on the White House strategy said Thursday.
The move would mark the first step in a process that could eventually result in the resumption of U.S. sanctions against Iran, potentially derailing a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities reached in 2015 with the United States and five other nations.
But Trump would hold off on recommending that Congress reimpose sanctions, which would constitute a clearer break from the pact, according to four people familiar with aspects of the president’s thinking.
The decision would amount to a middle ground of sorts between Trump, who has long wanted to withdraw from the agreement completely, and many congressional leaders and senior diplomatic, military and national security advisers, who believe the deal is worth preserving with changes if possible.
This week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford expressed qualified support for the deal during congressional testimony. And Mattis suggested he did not believe taking the step to decertify would scuttle the agreement.
Trump is expected to deliver a speech, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 12, laying out a larger strategy for confronting the nation he blames for terrorism and instability throughout the Middle East.
Officials cautioned that plans could still change, and the White House would not confirm plans for a speech or its contents. Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to report to Congress on whether Iran is complying with the agreement and whether he judges the deal to be in the U.S. national security interest.
“The administration looks forward to sharing details of our Iran strategy at the appropriate time,” said Michael Anton, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
The fate of the nuclear pact is only one consideration in that larger strategy, U.S. officials said, although given Trump’s focus on it as an “embarrassment,” it is the most high-profile element.
The deal signed under President Barack Obama was intended to close off the potential for Iran to quickly build a nuclear bomb by curbing nuclear activities the United States and other partners considered most troubling. It allowed some uranium enrichment to continue for what Iran claims is peaceful medical research and energy; the country says it has never sought nuclear weapons. In exchange, world powers lifted crippling U.S. and international economic sanctions.