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Here’s what Trump is demanding to change about the Iran nuclear deal

The White House made a major announcement Friday about how the U.S. will proceed with the Iran nuclear agreement. While President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the deal, he declined to reimpose broad sanctions, while warning that it would be the last time unless the deal is revised in the next 120 days. John Yang talks with Mark Landler of The New York Times.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The agreement led by President Obama that limits Iran’s nuclear program has been a consistent target of President Trump.

    Today, the White House made a major announcement about how the U.S. will proceed with the deal, which also includes European allies, China and Russia.

    John Yang reports.

  • John Yang:

    President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the nuclear agreement. Here he is last October-

  • President Donald Trump:

    The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.

  • John Yang:

    Today, he didn’t speak publicly as he declined again for the third time to reimpose broad sanctions that were lifted in 2015 as part of the multilateral accord. But the president warned, this is the last time, unless the deal is revised. He wants a supplemental agreement drawn up within 120 days to address what he sees as the pact’s failings.

    In a statement he said, “If at any time I judge that such an agreement is not within reach, I will withdraw from the deal immediately.”

    Mr. Trump also wants Iran’s long-range missiles to be addressed under the revised pact. Mr. Trump also ordered targeted sanctions on 14 businesses and individuals to punish the Islamic republic for its behavior.

    He cited thousands of arrests following recent anti-government protests. Europe’s top diplomats said yesterday their governments are sticking with the existing agreement. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said there’s no other viable option to the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

  • Boris Johnson:

    I don’t think anybody has come up with a better idea. And I think it’s incumbent on those who oppose the JCPOA really to come up with that better solution.

  • John Yang:

    Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif rejected today’s U.S. announcements, and said the deal is not renegotiable.

    Joining me now for more on today’s announcement is Mark Landler of The New York Times.

    Mark, thanks for joining us.

  • Mark Landler:

    Happy to be here.

  • John Yang:

    So, the president says he wants changes, or the United States is out. What changes does he want?

  • Mark Landler:

    Well, what he wants is a series of what the White House is calling triggers.

    These are things that, if Iran doesn’t go along with whatever the particular provision is, the sanctions against Iran would automatically snap back. And these fall into the category of allowing unfettered inspections of nuclear facilities. They also want to eliminate the sunset provisions.

    In the current nuclear deal, Iran is allowed to resume some nuclear-related activities on a timetable extending over the next 10 to 20 years, such as enriching uranium. The president wants those eliminated, so that, in effect, any activity that could allow Iran to produce a nuclear weapon would be foreclosed, not just for 10 years or 20 years, but forever.

    And that’s what he’s demanding of both lawmakers and Congress and, more difficultly, of allies in Europe, who are very unlikely to agree to that kind of a renegotiation.

  • John Yang:

    And, as you point out, he’s asking this of allies of Europe. He’s negotiating with allies in Europe, not with Iran. Explain that.

  • Mark Landler:

    Well, I think the idea here — and the White House did say today they ruled out the idea of bringing Iran to the negotiating table — the idea here, in effect, is if you get the United States, Britain, Germany and France to line up in favor of these changes, that you could, in effect, present it to Iran as a fait accompli.

    There are a couple important missing pieces here. Two of them are China and Russia, who, as you said earlier, are signatories to the deal. They’d presumably want to have a role in this, and then finally Iran itself, which has said over and over again the deal is done, it’s not negotiable.

    So I think that, in a sense, the White House is setting up a scenario that will be very difficult, if not impossible, to pull off.

  • John Yang:

    Why don’t they just pull out of the deal? If the president says this is such a bad deal, why doesn’t he just unilaterally pull out?

  • Mark Landler:

    Well, I think there has been an interesting change in the conditions on the ground in Iran. You have had this outbreak of anti-government protests.

    On one level, those protests made President Trump, if anything, more intent on walking away from the deal as a way of punishing the regime. But, oddly, particularly for the Europeans, the unrest in Iran is an even stronger reason for sticking with the deal.

    And the argument the Europeans make is you want to keep the spotlight on the Iranian administration, on the Iranian leadership. Ripping up the deal only allows the government to say the villain here is the United States, it’s not our own corruption, our own misuse of funds, et cetera.

    So there’s a strong reason logically to stick with the deal a little bit longer. I think that’s the case that President Trump’s advisers, Secretary of State Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis, his national security adviser, McMaster, I think that’s the case they made to the president. He clearly didn’t want to do it. He didn’t want to do it three months ago or last year either.

    But I think they were able to get him to sort of grudgingly agree, provided, as he said today, this is the last time he’s willing to do it.

  • John Yang:

    And what would be the effect if this — they don’t get this deal, they don’t get what the president wants, and he says he’s going to pull out unilaterally? What would be the effect?

  • Mark Landler:

    Well, if the United States reimposes sanctions on oil exports and on Iran’s Central Bank, it really does collapse the deal, because any European company that is thinking of investing in Iran or conducting trade with Iran is going to stay away, out of fear that they will suddenly find themselves at odds with the U.S. Treasury Department.

    So it really is a death blow to the deal. I think a lot of people are wondering whether, if 120 days from now, we see some progress toward getting new legislation on Capitol Hill, and perhaps the Europeans saying, look, we’re not going to renegotiate the deal right now, but we’re standing with you in an effort to perhaps think about doing a follow-on agreement after this deal expires or enhance sanctions against Iran on its ballistic missile program, that perhaps they could once again sell the president on staying his hand.

    That’s a highly uncertain scenario, but I think it’s what the deal’s defenders are now resting their hopes on.

  • John Yang:

    One hundred and twenty days to go.

    Mark Landler of The New York Times, thanks so much for helping us understand this.

  • Mark Landler:

    Thanks for having me.

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