Trump Seems Poised To Break The Iran Nuclear Deal

Originally published on May 8, 2018 8:33 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A European diplomat says unless something changes, President Trump, quote, "will not waive the sanctions against Iran." That was the diplomat's understanding of the announcement that President Trump plans today. The president has been threatening to withdraw from a deal that limits Iran's nuclear program. The president of Iran has been warning against that move. Hassan Rouhani gave a speech yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) If America leaves the nuclear accord, it will soon see that this will entail historic remorse.

INSKEEP: We have a longtime observer of Iran on the line - Thomas Erdbrink, Tehran correspondent for The New York Times.

Thomas, welcome back to the program.

THOMAS ERDBRINK: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what are Iranian officials expecting to happen today?

ERDBRINK: Well, Iranian officials are particularly tight-lipped today about the decision that President Trump will make. They, of course, don't want to give any credibility to someone who they see as their opponent. And, of course, they also don't want to make themselves look weak and as if they're waiting for a decision about their future to be made in the United States.

INSKEEP: Oh, now, this is an interesting point that you make, Thomas. When this announcement comes at 2 p.m., if President Trump were to withdraw from the deal and Iran were to respond by reviving its nuclear activities, ramping up its nuclear activities, that would allow the United States just to say, see, we were right all along; they do want to bomb.

ERDBRINK: Exactly. So the Iranian officials are really cornered because if they would do such a thing - and they have been threatening to restart their nuclear energy program, which according to many analysts could also be a cover for a nuclear program - then they would definitely be facing missile strikes or any other form of military action. So they really cannot react to President Trump and to his agreement by saying other things that - other than that the nuclear deal is terribly important for peace in the region, and that Europe and Russia and China do support a nuclear agreement, but they don't really have leverage over Mr. Trump.

INSKEEP: Well, then the next question is, can Iran take the opposite course and effectively do nothing, just keep trading with whoever is still willing to trade with them, and allow nuclear inspectors to continue looking at Iran's nuclear facilities and just go on?

ERDBRINK: Well, in a way, this will all be in the hands of Mr. Trump. And that's why we will all be very carefully looking what it is that he will be saying because if he completely withdraws from the nuclear agreement, it would mean that the United States would again unilaterally impose sanctions on Iran's Central Bank. Now, that would mean for Iran's trade partners - let's say the Europeans - that such companies would be in violation of U.S. sanctions because they are doing business with Iran, and ergo, they're doing business with the Central Bank. But if President Trump partially withdraws from nuclear agreement in the form of language that we do not yet know the details of, there might be loopholes created for European companies and for the Russians and the Chinese to keep the nuclear deal in place, just to have it without the U.S.

INSKEEP: Oh, I see. So really, what our question is is, does the president withdraw in a substantive way that ties the hands of people around the world or in a more symbolic way that allows things to go on? I want to ask another question, Thomas Erdbrink. Hassan Rouhani, the president we heard from at the beginning, is a president who had favored certain reforms inside and outside Iran, and his cornerstone achievement was supposed to be this nuclear deal. How is he fairing politically now that it's under threat?

ERDBRINK: Well, it is absolutely clear that even if Mr. Trump doesn't withdraw from the nuclear agreement, President Rouhani is the loser in this story. He has stuck his neck out by trying to be the architect of this of this deal. He has compromised on behalf of Iran, and now he is, as the Iranians see it, being stabbed in the back by President Trump, who unilaterally threatens to leave the agreement. He - Mr. Rouhani also faces economic problems inside the country. The national currency has gone in free fall. And, of course, the fear is that those problems will only increase if the United States were to impose new sanctions and withdraws.

INSKEEP: Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times in Tehran, always a pleasure to talk with you. Thanks very much.

ERDBRINK: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: He joined us via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.