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McMaster: Trump Decision on Iran Nuclear Deal Will be Part of Broad Strategy

  • Margaret Besheer

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L), Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (C)and U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (R) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 21, 2017.

U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster refused Thursday to disclose whether President Donald Trump has decided to withdraw the United States from the 2015 international pact curbing Iran's nuclear weapons development, but said the decision will be part of a broad U.S. strategy toward Iran.

"When the announcement is made, it will fit into a fundamentally sound and broad strategy aimed at addressing Iran's destabilizing behavior and prioritizing protecting American vital interests," McMaster said on NBC's Today show.

While McMaster declined to offer insight into the decision, he acknowledged it "is accurate" Trump is keen on renegotiating parts of the agreement that pertain to the pact's expiration and Iran's ballistic missile programs.

Trump told reporters Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly he had made a decision, but declined to say what it was. "I'll let you know," he said.

On Tuesday, Trump disparaged the deal at the U.N. General Assembly, calling it one of the worst transactions the U.S. has ever entered into. It was negotiated during the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Its provisions keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting heavy economic sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 19, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 19, 2017.

Signatories meet

The seven signatories to the agreement met Wednesday night at the United Nations. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, chairs the joint commission that is monitoring the deal’s implementation.

"The agreement is concerning the nuclear program. As such it is delivering. We all agreed that all parties are fulfilling their commitments. The agreement is being implemented," she told reporters.

Mogherini said there is no need to reopen the multilateral agreement, which was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council in a legally binding resolution.

"As Europeans, we will make sure the agreement stays," she added.

"I think it would be a mistake just to abandon the nuclear agreement without anything else," French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the pact's signatories, told reporters earlier Wednesday. He did say that while the deal is a good one, it could have additional pillars covering ballistic missile activity, the post-2025 period when some restrictions end, and include discussions with Iran about the current regional situation.

The meeting was the first encounter between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Tillerson said the U.S. has "significant issues" with the agreement, from a political, not a technical standpoint. Tillerson added that he did not know that Trump would say Wednesday that a decision had been made.

The secretary of state said the U.S. had presented its case to its allies and shared its concerns about Iran’s troubling behavior.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the General Assembly on Wednesday that Tehran is in compliance with its international obligations and would not break them.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 20, 2017.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 20, 2017.

"I declare before you that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement; but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party," Rouhani said. "It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics."

Rouhani was adamant that the deal cannot be renegotiated, an option Trump has suggested.

"This agreement is not something someone can touch," Rouhani told reporters at a news conference. "This is a building that from the frame of which, if you take off a single brick, the entire building will collapse."

Inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency the IAEA, which monitors the deal’s implementation, have found Iran consistently in technical compliance. U.S. officials argue that Tehran's ballistic missile tests and support for militant groups and Syria’s dictator breach the "spirit" of the deal.

The Trump administration has twice certified that Iran is complying with the agreement but has said he would not keep doing so indefinitely. Iran is facing a new assessment deadline in mid-October. If the U.S. were to withdraw, the deal could collapse.

University of Pennsylvania political science professor Ian Lustick said Trump's handling of the situation is "creating an unnecessary crisis" and that the administration's approach has been to find ways to enforce the deal that are so irritating to Iran that it withdraws.

"What we have with North Korea is what we would have with Iran if we didn’t have the agreement," Lustick told VOA. "Do we really want two of these situations?"

White House Correspondent Peter Heinlein in New York contributed to this report.

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