Trump Personally Intervened to Toughen Iran Deal Letter

  • Official says president had Tillerson toughen his language
  • Criticism added to finding that Iran is complying with accord

Donald Trump.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

President Donald Trump personally intervened to inject tougher language into a State Department letter to Congress last week that found Iran was in compliance with the deal limiting its nuclear program, according to an administration official familiar with the matter.

The letter to Congress from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified that Iran is complying with terms of the accord it reached with the U.S. and five other world powers in 2015 to restrict its nuclear activities in return for relief from certain economic sanctions, a finding required by U.S. law every 90 days.

But the final version highlighted Iran’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, reflecting Trump’s intervention after the president read a draft letter that he found too soft on Tehran, said the official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. The letter also said the administration will review whether to reimpose the U.S. sanctions linked to the nuclear program despite Iran’s compliance.

A day after sending the letter to Congress on April 18, Tillerson appeared at the State Department to sharply criticize the nuclear deal reached under former President Barack Obama, calling it “another example of buying off a power who has nuclear ambitions. We buy them off for a short period of time and then someone has to deal with it later.”

Those Tillerson comments also came at Trump’s request, the official said. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Tuesday on the intervention by Trump, along with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

‘Horrible Deal’

Trump has panned what he’s called “the horrible Iran deal,” saying it would let Iran build nuclear weapons eventually. But reimposing the sanctions that were explicitly tied to Iran’s nuclear program would face particular opposition from European allies and give the government in Tehran grounds to walk away from the accord.

At a press conference at the White House on April 20, Trump continued to slam the nuclear agreement and said Iran wasn’t “living up to the spirit of the agreement.”

“And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully and we’ll have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, said in an April 20 statement that the agreement is confined to nuclear issues, saying Iran has its own complaints about “nefarious activities of the U.S. government” that aren’t covered by the deal.

“Worn-out US accusations can’t mask its admission of Iran’s compliance,” Zarif said on Twitter the same day.

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