Low hopes: Trump to reveal Iran deal's fate

US President Donald Trump. Reuters File Photo

President Donald Trump is preparing to tell the world whether he plans to follow through on his threat to pull out of the landmark nuclear accord with Iran and almost surely ensure its collapse.

There are no signs that European allies enlisted to "fix" the deal had persuaded him to preserve it.

In a burst of last-minute diplomacy, punctuated by a visit by Britain's top diplomat, the deal's European members gave in to many of Trump's demands, according to officials, diplomats and others briefed on the negotiations. Yet they still left convinced he is likely to re-impose sanctions and walk away from the deal he has lambasted since his days as a presidential candidate.

As they braced for an expected withdrawal Tuesday, US officials were dusting off plans for how to sell a pullout to the public and explain its complex ramifications to the global financial world, said the officials and others, who weren't authorized to speak ahead of an announcement and requested anonymity.

Building up anticipation for the big reveal, Trump announced on Twitter he would disclose his decision at 2 p.m., with an announcement set for the Diplomatic Room of the White House. With uncharacteristic discipline, he kept the decision confined to a small group within the White House National Security Council, leaving even many his aides guessing what he had decided.

An immense web of sanctions, written agreements and staggered deadlines make up the 2015 nuclear deal struck by the U.S., Iran and world powers. So Trump effectively has several pathways to pull the United States out of the deal by reneging on its commitments.

Under the most likely scenario, Trump will allow sanctions on Iran's central bank — intended to target its oil exports — to kick back in, rather than waiving them once again on Saturday, the next deadline for renewal, said the individuals briefed on Trump's deliberations. Then the Trump administration would give those who are doing business with Iran a six-month grace period to wind down business and avoid running afoul of those sanctions.

Depending on how Trump sells it — either as an irreversible U.S. pullout, or one final chance to save it — the deal could ostensibly be strengthened during those six months in a last-ditch effort to persuade Trump to change his mind.

The first 15 months of Trump's presidency have been filled with many such "last chances" for the Iran deal in which he's punted the decision for another few months, and then another.

Other US sanctions don't require a decision until later, including those on specific Iranian businesses, sectors and individuals that will snap back into place in July unless Trump signs another waiver. A move on Tuesday to restore those penalties ahead of the deadline would be the most aggressive move Trump could take to close the door to staying in the deal.

Even Trump's secretary of state and the U.N. agency that monitors nuclear compliance agree that Iran, so far, has lived up to its side of the deal. But the deal's critics, such as Israel, the Gulf Arab states and many Republicans, say it's a giveaway to Tehran that ultimately paves the path to a nuclear-armed Iran several years in the future.

Iran, for its part, has been coy in predicting its response to a Trump withdrawal. For weeks, Iran's foreign minister had been saying that a re-imposition of U.S. sanctions would render the deal null and void, leaving Tehran little choice but to abandon it as well.

But yesterday President Hassan Rouhani said Iran could stick with it if the European Union, whose economies do far more business with Iran than the U.S., offers guarantees that Iran would keep benefiting.

It is far from clear that Europe can credibly provide that assurance. Even with the deal in place, Iran complained constantly that European banks and businesses were staying away out of fear they'd be punished by the United States.

The global financial system is so interconnected and so dependent on New York that it's nearly impossible to conduct business that doesn't touch the US financial system. That gives Trump incredible leverage if he threatens that anyone doing business with Iran will be cut off from the United States.

For the Europeans, a Trump withdrawal would also constitute dispiriting proof that trying to appease the mercurial American president is an exercise for naught.

The three EU members of the deal — Britain, France and Germany — were insistent from the start that the deal could not be re-opened. After all, it was the U.S. that brokered the agreement in 2015 and rallied the world behind it. But all that was under President Barack Obama, whose global legacy Trump has worked to chip away at since taking office.

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