Several media outlets on Friday confirmed what has been suspected in Washington and foreign capitals for some time: that Trump will not certify the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, on the grounds it does not serve US security interests.
That would trigger a period of 60 days in which it would be up to a delicately balanced Congress whether to reimpose sanctions. A decision to do so could trigger a collapse of the deal and a return to a tense standoff in the Middle East over the Iranian nuclear programme.
“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump said at a White House meeting of US military leaders.
“That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he added. “You will be hearing about Iran very shortly.”
The statement was made as he sat alongside senior security officials, the most senior of whom have said repeatedly that Iran is abiding by the 2015 nuclear agreement.
The defence secretary, James Mattis, said this week that staying with the deal, under which Iran accepted strict curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, was in US national security interests.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, recently said that pulling out of the multilateral deal, which was signed by some of Washington’s closest allies, would affect US credibility and could hinder the ability of the US to strike security agreements in the future.
Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and national security advisor, HR McMaster, are both thought to have also advised Trump not to withhold certification. The European signatories to the deal – the UK, France and Germany – have all urged Trump to uphold it, and are now focusing their energies on lobbying Congress not to reimpose sanctions, which could prove fatal to the agreement.
The non-certification of the Iran deal threatens to trigger a second nuclear standoff at a time when the US is already immersed in one with North Korea.
That crisis has escalated recently with Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, a series of intermediate and intercontinental missile tests, and a rancorous war of words between the US president and the North’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.
Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on the North Korean weapons programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, expressed alarm that Trump’s warning of a coming “storm” could have been interpreted by America’s adversaries in ways the president never considered.
“This is the kind of idle threat that, made at the wrong time, could trigger an unexpected escalation on the Korean peninsula,” Lewis tweeted. “Please stop.”