President Trump is expected to overrule his top national security advisers and decline to certify the Iran nuclear agreement, according to people who have been briefed on the matter, a decision that would reopen a volatile political debate on Iran but is likely to leave in place the landmark deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Mr. Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now.
Still, Mr. Trump’s expected move would allow him to tell supporters that he had disavowed the accord, while bowing to the reality that the United States would isolate itself from its allies if it sabotaged a deal with which Iran is viewed as complying. Mr. Trump repeatedly ridiculed the accord during the 2016 presidential campaign, vowing to rip it up.
White House officials cautioned that the president had not yet formally decided to “decertify” the agreement. But he faces an Oct. 15 deadline, and he has made little secret of his intentions, most recently when he declared at the United Nations two weeks ago that the agreement was “embarrassing to the United States.”
Mr. Trump will present his decision on the deal as part of a broader American strategy to crack down on Iran for its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East. Administration officials said he had signed off on the overall approach and hoped he would present it before the deadline.
The strategy is an effort by the Trump administration to make the nuclear agreement only part of a multidimensional approach to pressure Iran on many fronts, including its missile program, its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and its intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Assad government.
But the administration has yet to articulate that broader strategy. As a result, the nuclear deal remains the fulcrum of the relationship with Iran — and a political football in Washington.
Congress will have to decide whether to reimpose sanctions, which could sink the deal, or use the prospect of that to force Iran — and the other parties to the deal — back to the negotiating table to make changes in the agreement.