WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is expected to announce Friday that he won't certify that Iran is complying with the 2015 international nuclear agreement and will take Tehran to task more broadly for practices ranging from missile tests to support of violent groups, U.S. officials said.
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The refusal to certify Iran's compliance doesn't mean the U.S. will pull out of the deal, the officials added, and Mr. Trump isn't expected to ask Congress to re-impose economic sanctions that had been lifted as part of the agreement. But it could send the U.S. down a road of trying to change a deal that U.S. allies still support.
Mr. Trump, a longtime opponent of the agreement negotiated under his predecessor's administration, is expected to announce his decision in a speech in which he will also lay out plans to crack down on Iran's missile program as well as its support for Hezbollah and other militant groups in the Middle East, the officials said.
Mr. Trump also is likely to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's elite military branch, as a terrorist organization, although that step has been the subject of internal administration debates, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
The venue for Mr. Trump's remarks also has been the subject of discussions. Officials said they had discussed the possibility of the speech taking place in front of the unoccupied Iranian embassy building in Washington, although that plan was set aside.
Mr. Trump's speech will mark the end of a months-long Iran policy review by the administration and begin an uncertain process under which Congress has a 60-day period during which it may consider on an expedited basis reinstating sanctions that had been lifted under the terms of the nuclear accord.
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Mr. Trump will speak in advance of a Sunday deadline to inform Congress about whether or not Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, under the terms of a U.S. law passed in 2015 meant to provide congressional oversight.
That deadline, and Mr. Trump's decision, have no effect on the U.S. adherence to the nuclear accord, unless Congress reinstates the sanctions. For now, however, the Trump administration move will allow Mr. Trump to criticize the deal while also providing some assurances to European allies that the U.S. won't walk away from the agreement.
The Trump administration has been working with Congress to amend the U.S. legislation that provides for congressional oversight. Several proposals for changes to the legislation are circulating. One draft was offered by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) and another by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.).
Some of the ideas in the drafts include expanding the definition of compliance with the deal to include limits on Iran's nuclear activities under the purview of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and extending or eliminating the quarterly certification time requirement.
Mr. Trump last month extended sanctions relief to Iran under the nuclear agreement, and will next face a deadline to do so in January.
The European governments that helped the Obama administration negotiate the nuclear deal -- the U.K., France and Germany -- are preparing a formal response to Mr. Trump's expected move, officials said.
The statement, likely to be made within hours of the U.S. announcement, will refrain from criticizing Washington and instead emphasize Europeans' strong backing for the deal, officials said. It likely will acknowledge U.S. concerns about Iran's regional behavior and missile tests, but stress these issues, which weren't part of the talks leading to the nuclear deal, should be dealt with separately, officials said.
As the policy review has been going on in the past several months, U.S. officials have been trying to persuade Europe to work with them to raise pressure on Iran. Europe's trade with Iran has grown markedly since sanctions were suspended in January 2016 and dwarfs U.S.-Iranian commerce.
At the same time, the quarterly deadlines for certifying Iran's compliance have been an irritant and embarrassment for the president, officials said. Mr. Trump has twice certified Iran to be in compliance.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, which is charged with enforcing the deal, also has determined Iran to be in compliance, a conclusion with which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed.
In advance of Mr. Trump's announcement Friday, Mr. Tillerson has called counterparts in the U.K., France, China and Russia to discuss the U.S. plans, according to the State Department.
Mr. Trump's speech on Friday will start what officials expect to be a lengthy diplomatic process to negotiate ways to strengthen the Iran accord, first with European officials and perhaps eventually with Iran, either by revisiting the accord or by enacting related but freestanding agreements.
Among the U.S. concerns, the Trump administration has criticized the Iran deal for limits on Iran's nuclear activity that eventually will expire -- known as "sunset clauses" -- and has faulted the agreement for not addressing Iran's ballistic missile program.
European ambassadors in Washington have spent time in recent days meeting with U.S. lawmakers to express their willingness to discuss U.S. concerns about Iran and even the agreement, but that the U.S. must first make clear it will abide by the deal.
French President Emmanuel Macron last month floated the idea of supplementing the agreement with separate pacts to "control Iran's ballistic [missile] activities, and to govern the situation after 2025," when the deal's limits on Iran's nuclear work start to expire.
Other countries also have expressed concern about the IRGC, the elite military organizationn that reports directly to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has a command structure separate from Iran's traditional armed forces.
The IRGC was established following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and has grown to dominate Iran's economy, with holdings in property, oil and gas and telecommunications. U.S. officials estimate the IRGC controls as much as 50% of Iran's economy.
Mr. Trump is expected to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group under an executive order that was created after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to target terrorist financing. It would not be classified as a foreign terrorist organization under more punitive U.S. laws, officials said.
France, like the U.S., has expressed concerns that the deal gives Iran greater freedom to work on more advanced centrifuges, which would allow Tehran to produce weapons-grade uranium more quickly, people familiar with the discussions said.
The Obama administration and European partners have said the aim of the deal was to confront Iran's nuclear program only. As part of the deal, Iran agreed to ratify a side agreement, known as the additional protocol, which provides for broader and more intrusive inspections that Tehran said it would accept as part of the deal.
--Laurence Norman contributed to this article.
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 12, 2017 17:58 ET (21:58 GMT)