The White House has concluded that Iran remains in compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, but signalled that it was preparing to take a tougher stance on Tehran over other non-nuclear issues.
Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, on Monday told Congress that Iran was still complying with the landmark deal negotiated by the Obama administration. In endorsing the deal, Congress insisted that the administration would every 90 days have to certify that the country was adhering to the agreement.
While the Trump administration issued its second successive certification — ensuring that waivers for nuclear-related sanctions remain in place — White House officials stressed that President Donald Trump would increase pressure on Tehran in response to activities such as its ballistic missile tests, cyber attacks and other actions that they said “severely undermined” the intent of the nuclear accord.
“Iran is unquestionably in default of the spirit of the JCPOA,” said one US official, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreed by the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany in 2015.
The US official said President Barack Obama had focused Iran policy too narrowly around the JCPOA, and the Trump administration would create a strategy to “address the totality” of Iranian behaviour.
During the US presidential campaign, Mr Trump repeatedly slammed the Iran accord and said his top priority would be to dismantle the “disastrous” deal. But his administration has been hampered by the fact that Iran has remained in compliance, and also because even some of the critics of the deal are concerned that walking away from the accord would embolden Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist, lists dismantling the deal as one of many goals he has outlined on a white board in his West Wing office. But underscoring the complexities involved in abandoning the accord, the goal is separated from other tasks in a category of more difficult actions.
The White House is completing a comprehensive review of Iran policy which should be complete before the administration has to issue the next nuclear deal certification in October. Some European countries have expressed concern that US moves to punish Iran in other ways could be interpreted by Tehran as disingenuous efforts to target the regime while claiming to adhere to the nuclear accord.
Another of three officials who briefed reporters before the formal certification said European allies agreed with the US about the need to police the accord more strictly. “Our European allies want to work with us to interpret the agreement more strictly,” he said. “They will be good partners on this.”
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi