President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the landmark nuclear deal with Tehran on Tuesday, moving to re-impose sanctions on Iran and defying pleas from close allies who had called for the agreement to be preserved.
The decision marks a bitter defeat for America’s European allies, who have spent months beseeching Mr Trump to stay in a deal that he has denounced as “insane”. Critics warned it would further endanger stability in the Middle East and have repercussions for big companies doing business with Iran following the 2015 accord.
In an announcement at the White House, Mr Trump said the “decaying and rotten structure” of the deal could not prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb. “The US will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” he declared. “If I allowed this deal to stand, there soon would be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
He said the US would reimpose nuclear sanctions and “the highest level of economic sanctions” on Iran.
The US Treasury department said all nuclear-related sanctions would be snapped back into place by the end of a six-month “wind-down” period.
The sanctions include prohibitions on Iranians accessing US dollars, and the Trump administration will resume efforts to prevent Iranian oil from circulating on the international market.
In a pointed rebuke to Tehran, which Mr Trump accused of lying over its nuclear development, the president said Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, was en route to Pyongyang to set up a summit with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, to seek the dismantling of its nuclear programme.
Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani said the country would decide whether to stay in the deal or resume uranium enrichment at industrial level after talking with the other signatories over the next few weeks.
But for now, he said, Iran considered that the deal remained intact. “Henceforth, the nuclear deal will be between Iran and five other countries,” said Mr Rouhani in a speech broadcast live on state television on Tuesday.
He added that he had ordered the country’s Atomic Energy Organization to be ready for “unrestricted enrichment at industrial level”.
The multi-party accord, also signed by China and Russia and endorsed by the UN Security Council, was the key foreign policy achievement of Barack Obama’s presidency, curtailing Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief. Official inspectors have declared Tehran to be in compliance with the accord.
Senior officials from France, Germany, the UK and EU met Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, in Brussels on Tuesday for talks on how to save the deal.
Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc regretted the US decision but was “determined to preserve” the deal as long as Iran remained compliant. She said she was “particularly worried” by the announcement of new sanctions and would consult on their potential impact.
“As we have always said, the nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement,” she said. “And it’s not in the hands of any single country to terminate it unilaterally.”
She added: “The nuclear deal with Iran is crucial for the security of the region, of Europe and of the entire world.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, vowed to “work collectively on a broader framework”, which would cover Iran’s nuclear activity, ballistic missile programme and “stability in the Middle East, notably Syria, Yemen, and Iraq”.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who had lobbied hard against the deal, thanked Mr Trump for taking a “brave and correct decision”.
The Iran deal was “a recipe for disaster, a disaster for our region, a disaster for the peace of the world”, said Mr Netanyahu in a televised address after Mr Trump signed the executive order ending the deal.
Oil prices rebounded following the announcement but remained down for the day. Brent, the international oil benchmark, which had fallen as much as $3 a barrel to a low of $73.10 on Tuesday, climbed back to $75.29 — down 87 cents.
West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, dropped by a similar amount to $67.63 earlier in the day but recovered more than half those losses to $69.48 a barrel.
Top Trump administration officials have declared Tehran to be in compliance with the accord, including Mr Pompeo, who told the Senate in his confirmation hearing last month that he had seen no evidence Iran was failing to comply.
However, Mr Trump promised to tear up the deal as part of his 2016 election campaign, saying the agreement was a failure because it would not prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon nor put a stop to its so-called malign regional activities.
An existing waiver of sanctions requiring other countries to reduce imports of Iranian oil was due to expire this weekend unless the US extended it.
In a joint statement, UK prime minister Theresa May, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel and Mr Macron said: “We emphasise our continuing commitment to the [deal]. This agreement remains important for our shared security . . . We urge all sides to remain committed to its full implementation and to act in a spirit of responsibility.”
Europeans are alarmed by the potential consequences of Mr Trump’s withdrawal. One European diplomat said “we have yet fully to understand and spell out” what happens next. Visits to Washington by Mr Macron, Ms Merkel and Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary, all failed to persuade the US to recommit to the accord.
Mr Trump and some of his closest advisers argue the deal needs to be “fixed”, including by extending time limits on restraints on Iran’s nuclear activities and cracking down on Tehran’s ballistic missile activities and role in regional conflicts.
Additional reporting by Michael Peel in Brussels and Henry Mance in London
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