US president Donald Trump is preparing to tell the world whether he plans to follow through on his threat to pull out of the landmark nuclear accord with Iran.
Mr Trump announced on Twitter he would disclose his decision at 2pm (7pm BST) from the Diplomatic Room of the White House.
Mr Trump has kept the decision confined to a small group within the White House National Security Council, leaving many of his closest aides guessing what he had decided.
In Iran, many are deeply concerned about how Mr Trump’s decision could affect an already struggling economy.
In Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani sought to calm nerves, smiling as he appeared at a petroleum conference. He did not name Mr Trump directly, but emphasised that Iran continues to seek “engagement with the world”.
He said: “It is possible that we will face some problems for two or three months, but we will pass through this.”
An immense web of sanctions, written agreements and staggered deadlines make up the 2015 nuclear deal struck by the US, Iran and other world powers. So Mr Trump effectively has several pathways to pull the United States out of the deal by reneging on its commitments.
Under the most likely scenario, the US president will allow sanctions on Iran’s central bank – intended to target its oil exports – to kick back in, rather than waiving them once again on Saturday, the next deadline for renewal. Then the Trump administration would give those who are doing business with Iran a six-month grace period to wind down business and avoid running afoul of those sanctions.
Depending on how Mr Trump sells it – either as an irreversible US pullout, or one final chance to save it — the deal could ostensibly be strengthened during those six months in a last-ditch effort to persuade Mr Trump to change his mind. The first 15 months of his presidency have been filled with many such “last chances” for the Iran deal in which he has delayed the decision for another few months, and then another few.
Even Mr Trump’s secretary of state and the UN agency that monitors nuclear compliance agree that Iran, so far, has lived up to its side of the deal. But the deal’s critics, such as Israel, the Gulf Arab states and many Republicans, say it is a giveaway to Tehran that ultimately paves the path to a nuclear-armed Iran several years in the future.
For the Europeans, a Trump withdrawal would also constitute dispiriting proof that trying to appease the mercurial American president is a futile exercise.
The three EU members of the deal — the UK, France and Germany – were insistent from the start that the deal could not be re-opened. After all, it was the US that brokered the agreement in 2015 and rallied the world behind it. But all that was under President Barack Obama, whose global legacy Mr Trump has worked to chip away since taking office.
The Europeans reluctantly backed down, agreeing to discuss an “add-on” agreement that would not change the underlying nuclear deal, but would add new restrictions on Iran to address what Mr Trump had identified as its shortcomings. Mr Trump wants to deter Iran’s ballistic missile scheme and other destabilising actions in the region. He also wants more rigorous nuclear inspections and to extend the deal’s restrictions on Iranian enrichment and reprocessing, rather than let them phase out after about a decade.
Negotiating an add-on agreement, rather than revising the existing deal, has the added benefit of not requiring the formal consent of Iran or the other remaining members: Russia and China. The idea was that even if they baulked at the West’s impositions, Iran would be likely to comply anyway so as to keep enjoying lucrative sanctions relief.
John Kerry canât get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2018
Although the US and the Europeans made progress on ballistic missiles and inspections, there were disagreements over extending the life of the deal and over how to trigger additional penalties if Iran were found to be violating the new restrictions, US officials and European diplomats have said. The Europeans agreed to yet more concessions in the final days of negotiating ahead of Mr Trump’s decision.
It was not clear what led Mr Trump to declare he was ready to render judgment on the deal’s fate. But on Twitter, he targeted former secretary of state John Kerry, who led Mr Obama’s efforts to broker the deal and has been making the case publicly and privately for its survival.
“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” Mr Trump said. “He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!”
Later, the president tweeted: “John Kerry can’t get over the fact that he had his chance and blew it! Stay away from negotiations John, you are hurting your country!”