The accord’s survival was already tenuous. But after Trump’s cabinet shakeup, it’s likely to end.
BY DAN DE LUCE, KEITH JOHNSON
President Donald Trump’s sacking of his top diplomat, Rex Tillerson, signals America’s likely withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, and raises the risk of a possible military confrontation with the regime in Tehran.
The future of the Iran deal was already in serious doubt after Trump issued an ultimatum in January, warning he would pull the United States out of the accord unless European allies or Congress managed to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.”
But by picking CIA Director Mike Pompeo, an avowed Iran hawk, to succeed Tillerson as secretary of state, Trump sent a clear message that Washington was hardening its stance as a May 12 deadline approaches for the possible reimposition of U.S. sanctions.
Talking to reporters Tuesday about his decision, Trump cited his disagreement with Tillerson over the Iran nuclear agreement as an example of how the outgoing secretary of state had “a different mindset” than his own.
“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was okay…. So we were not really thinking the same,” Trump said before departing for California.
In recent weeks, Tillerson’s deputies have worked to hammer out an arrangement with European allies that could preserve the deal while addressing Trump’s concerns about its shortcomings, including Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal and provisions that expire in the next decade and beyond.
“I think it spells trouble for the nuclear deal,” said Colin Kahl, who served as the national security advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden.
While Tillerson often found himself on the losing side of many issues at the White House, he was a voice of caution and “he did appear to have some impact in delaying Trump dumping the Iran deal,” Kahl said.
The next round of talks among the United States and diplomats from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany aimed at salvaging the agreement is due to go ahead as planned in Berlin this week, officials say. And a meeting of all the signatories to the Iran deal, which includes the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China, Iran, and the United States, is scheduled for Friday in Vienna.
Despite Trump’s abrupt firing of Tillerson, the outgoing secretary of state’s top aide, Brian Hook, will attend the meetings in Europe, a State Department spokesperson said. Hook was an influential figure on Tillerson’s staff and it’s unlikely he will stay on under Pompeo.
The 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers, which former President Barack Obama touted as a diplomatic breakthrough, imposed elaborate restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program while lifting an array of U.S. and international sanctions that had damaged the country’s economy. In his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump railed against the agreement as the “worst deal ever,” saying Iran had won relief from sanctions without having to give up enough in return.