WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday extended some sanctions relief for Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal but said it has yet to decide whether to preserve the deal itself, the State Department said.
President Donald Trump, who must make a decision by mid-October that could undermine the agreement, said Iran is violating “the spirit” of the 2015 deal under which Iran got sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear program.
In a sign of Trump’s desire to put pressure on Iran, which denies violating the deal, the U.S. Treasury announced new cyber-related and other sanctions on seven Iranian individuals, two Iranian entities and two Ukraine-based entities.
“We are not going to stand for what they are doing,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One. But he stopped short of saying whether he will refuse to recertify the agreement.
Trump must decide in October whether to certify that Iran is complying with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). If he does not, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal.
The prospect of Washington reneging on the agreement has worried some of the key U.S. allies that helped negotiate the deal, especially as the world grapples with another nuclear crisis, North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and wrote the law giving Congress the right to review the Iran deal, said he and the White House were preparing in case of a change in policy.
He also said he recognised the need to work with allies.
“I think it’s important that ... we take steps that, to the extent we can, we keep all of our allies together,” Corker told Reuters. “What you don’t want to do is self-create a crisis for no reason. You want to make sure that you have an outcome here that is a good outcome for the United States and our interest.”
Asked if it made sense to abandon the Iran nuclear deal given concerns about North Korea, Corker said, “I don’t think you should prejudge what they’re (the administration) going to do.”
Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued that the United States must consider the full threat it says Iran poses to the Middle East when formulating its new policy toward Tehran, saying Iran had breached the spirit of the deal.
“We have to consider the totality of Iran’s activities and not let our view be defined solely by the nuclear agreement,” he told a news conference in London.
Citing the preface to the 2015 agreement, Tillerson said “in our view, Iran is clearly in default of these expectations.” He cited Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its development of ballistic missiles and “cyber activities.”
The deal’s preface does not oblige Iran to promote global peace. Rather, it says the nations involved “anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters the administration had approved waivers of some sanctions on Iran to “maintain some flexibility” as it develops its Iran policy. She did not specify which sanctions were waived.
Earlier, sources said the United States will renew a waiver of the most punitive sanctions on Iran.
Tucked into Section 1245 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, Washington threatened to sanction the banks of Iran’s main oil customers if they did not significantly cut their purchases of Iranian crude.
Under the law, these sanctions can be waived for a maximum of 120 days, forcing the U.S. government to revisit the issue every four months.
Even as the administration waived the oil-related sanctions, the Treasury Department announced it had sanctioned 11 entities and individuals for “engaging in support of designated Iranian actors or malicious cyber-enabled activity.”
Of the 11, seven were Iranian individuals, two were Iranian entities and two were entities based in Ukraine.
The Treasury alleged they either supported Iran’s ballistic missile program or its Quds Force, or engaged in cyber attacks against the U.S. financial system. The action freezes any assets they may hold in the United States and generally prohibits U.S. individuals from doing business with them.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Steve Holland; Editing by Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis