President Donald Trump is expected to announce soon that he will decertify the landmark international deal to curb Iran's nuclear program, a senior administration official said on Thursday, in a step that potentially could cause the 2015 accord to unravel.
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Trump has been weighing whether the pact, which he has called an "embarrassment," serves U.S. security interests as he faces an Oct. 15 deadline for certifying that Iran is complying with it.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump is also expected to roll out a broader U.S. strategy on Iran that would be more confrontational. The Trump administration has frequently criticized Iran's conduct in the Middle East.
If Trump declines to certify Iran's compliance, U.S. congressional leaders would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Tehran suspended under the agreement.
The Washington Post first reported Trump's plans to say that he will decertify the deal.
Trump has long criticized the pact, a signature foreign policy achievement of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama which was signed in 2015 by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran.
Many of Trump's fellow Republicans who control Congress also have been critical of the deal, whereas the other powers that signed it strongly support it.
Supporters say its collapse could trigger a regional arms race and worsen Middle East tensions, while opponents say it went too far in easing sanctions without requiring that Iran end its nuclear program permanently.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close ally of Trump, last month said that unless provisions in the accord removing restrictions on Iran's nuclear program over time are eliminated, it should be canceled.
"Fix it, or nix it," Netanyahu said in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders on Sept. 19.
An administration official previously said the administration was considering Oct. 12 for Trump to give a speech on Iran but no final decision had been made.
In April, the administration said it would review whether the lifting of sanctions against Iran was in the U.S. national security interest. Trump is weighing a strategy that could allow more aggressive U.S. responses to Iran's forces, its Shi'ite Muslim proxies in Iraq and Syria and its support for militant groups.
Trump's defense secretary, Jim Mattis, told a Senate hearing on Tuesday the United States should consider staying in the deal unless it were proven that Tehran was not abiding by it or that it was not in the U.S. national interest to do so.
When Mattis was asked by a senator whether he thought staying in the deal was in the U.S. national security interest, he replied: "Yes, senator, I do."
Last week, Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran may abandon the deal if Washington decides to withdraw from it. A senior European Union diplomat said this week European countries would do their utmost to preserve it. While Europeans have concerns about Iran's role in regional affairs, those issues are not part of the nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
A State Department official said the Trump administration was "fully committed to addressing the totality of Iranian threats and malign activities and seeks to bring about a change in the Iranian regime's behavior."
The official said that behavior includes ballistic missiles proliferation, "support for terrorism," support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, "unrelenting hostility to Israel," "consistently threatening freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf," cyber attacks against the United States and its allies, human rights abuses and "arbitrary detentions of U.S. citizens."
"The JCPOA was expected to contribute to regional and international peace and security, and Iran’s regime is doing everything in its power to undermine peace and security,” the State Department official added.
The move also would represent another step by Trump that would undo key parts of Obama's legacy.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Yara Bayoumy in Washington; Additional reporting by David Alexander; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Tim Ahmann and James Dalgleish)