President Trump will decide today whether or not to waive nuclear sanctions again and keep the U.S.'s commitments to the Iran deal, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- the first time he has been faced with the choice since he announced his new strategy for the country late last year.
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Despite his expressed disdain for the deal and intention to tear it up, the president is expected to sign a series of waivers for the fifth time as president, according to a senior State Department official, who cautioned that no decision is final.
"He’s going to get to make that decision this afternoon. We have a session scheduled with him over at the Oval [Office] today," Tillerson told reporters during a photo-op at the State Department Thursday.
Consultations with his top foreign policy advisers began over the weekend at Camp David, where the president gathered with Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and others. As always with Trump, the president could change his mind at the last minute, the senior official added.
The waivers are on the nuclear sanctions the U.S. agreed to lift as part of the 2015 agreement between the U.S., Iran, the European Union, China, Russia, Germany, the U.K., and France. As part of America's commitment under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, they must be re-signed periodically for varying lengths of time; some come up every 90 days, others 120 or 180.
As is customary, the Secretary of State has been designated to sign the waivers, which, despite different upcoming deadlines, will be bundled together as one document. Tillerson will be the one to notify Congress of the administration’s decision Friday.
This isn't the first time Trump has had to waive sanctions and keep the Iran deal alive -- but it will be the first time since he announced his new Iran strategy in October and threatened to terminate the deal unless Congress made some "fixes."
In that speech, Trump kept the U.S. in the agreement, but refused to certify the Iran nuclear deal, telling Congress that the sanctions relief to Iran was greater than the advantages to U.S. national security.
After three months, Congress still has not proposed any changes to address the flaws Trump laid out, including addressing Iran's ballistic missile program, which the agreement does not cover, or extending certain limits on Iran's nuclear program that expire under the current agreement.
European partners have been intensely lobbying Congress and the White House to remain in the agreement, which they see as doing its job and preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon at this time.
"We could've had by now actually a nuclear-armed Iran if not for the JCPOA... which would've added tremendously to the instability" in the Middle East, said Angela Kane, a German diplomat who served as the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs -- and a member of a delegation of retired European diplomats in Washington to meet with members of Congress and administration officials.
"When you have signed up to an agreement which was negotiated -- my goodness, I mean, it was five years longer if you think about all the talks," Kane added. "Now to say, 'We would like to have a change, or we need to look at it again'... it would be a very hard case to make."