Trump Administration Set To Further Reduce Sanctions Against Iran

Notwithstanding his promises during the campaign, President Trump seems likely to go forward with sanctions reductions required under the nuclear deal with Iran.

Iran Nuclear Deal Congress

Reuters is reporting that the Trump Administration is preparing to further lighten sanctions against Iran as called for under the nuclear deal reached between the regime and other world powers in Geneva last year:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday will announce that it will extend wide sanctions relief for Iran under the 2015 nuclear deal, sources familiar with the matter said, but no decision on whether to preserve the deal itself has yet been made.

The United States will renew a waiver of the key, and most punitive, sanctions that it imposed on Iran before the nuclear deal was ultimately struck, the sources said.

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 revisit the issue every four months. Former President Barack Obama’s administration, which negotiated the deal, did so in mid-January and President Donald Trump’s administration did so again on May 17.

ABC News is saying this same thing:

The Trump administration is set to sign off on a new round of waivers of sanctions against Iran that will keep the U.S. in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal as the president determines what to do next, multiple sources tell ABC News.

Trump faces a deadline today when the U.S. must waive sanctions against Iran or let them snap back into place, violating the nuclear agreement and likely destroying it. The White House has yet to publicly announce a decision on what it will do while a vocal campaign including by top former Obama administration officials has been calling on the president to stay in the deal.

The sanctions waivers are one of America’s obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which offered Iran relief from crippling international sanctions in exchange for inspections of its nuclear facilities and limits on its nuclear capabilities.

While Trump is complying with the deal for now, all eyes are on another deadline – Oct. 14 – when the administration must certify to Congress that Iran is meeting its obligations under the agreement and that the deal remains within U.S. interests.

But that certification to Congress, required every 90 days under U.S. law and not as part of the Iran deal itself, is in jeopardy as Trump searches for a way out of the accord.

After the last certification to Congress in July, Trump told The Wall Street Journal, “If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.” He said he expected Iran to be declared noncompliant the next time, this October.

In a speech last week, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley laid out how and why the administration might decertify the agreement, citing Iran’s other malign activities like support for terrorism. She said, however, that it was ultimately up to the president.

If the president decides by the Oct. 14 deadline to decertify the Iran deal, it would kick off a 60-day period in which Congress must decide whether to reinstate sanctions on Iran by a simple majority vote. But reinstating sanctions would violate the U.S.’s terms — and effectively tear up the agreement.

Throughout his campaign for President, Trump was a vocal opponent of the deal that the Obama Administration, with the assistance of other world powers such as the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Germany, and China, reached an agreement with the Islamic Republic that reduced sanctions in exchange for the Iran’s agreement to scale back its weapons research and open its facilities to international inspections for the first time. Trump called the deal a ‘bad deal’ and claimed that he could have negotiated a better one. Like the other Republican candidates for President, Trump vowed that he would “rip the deal” up as one of his first acts as President, so far he’s failed to do so. Instead, he has quietly recertified the deal twice already, and it appears as though he’s getting ready to do so again. The biggest sign that the Administration is preparing to take that route can be seen in the fact that it has reportedly concluded the review of America’s policy toward Iran that the Trump Administration promised months ago and that policy has utterly failed to provide any evidence to justify claims that Iran is violating the agreement in any way.  All of this comes despite repeated reports that Trump has expressed frustration on each of the previous occasions that he’s signed off on recertification of the deal and the insistence of sources inside Israel who insist that the Iranians are not complying with the agreement even though there’s no evidence to support those allegations.

In the end, it is obvious that Trump really has no choice but to recertify the agreement no matter how much he may wish to do otherwise. First of all, it does appear that the Iranians are in fact complying with the agreement both in terms of not pursuing any further efforts to develop nuclear weapons, but also in allowing inspectors to have access to their facilities as required by the agreement. Most importantly, though, it seems quite apparent that the rest of the international community would not be on board for any effort to reimpose sanctions on the Islamic Republic and that the United States would be very much on its own in taking such action, meaning that the sanctions would be unlikely to be effective and that the sanctions would not have the same impact that they would if imposed by a wide coalition as they had been in the past. Furthermore, the need for international cooperation in other areas, such as sanctions against North Korea, and the fact that Trump’s behavior since becoming President has already reduced the extent to which our allies in Europe trust him, means that it would be highly unlikely that they’d follow along in any effort to reimpose sanctions when there is no evidence to support the need to do so. Absent compelling evidence that Iran is evading the terms of the agreement, which so far does not exist, Trump’s hands are most likely tied and he’ll continue to have to recertify the agreement every three months whether he wants to or not.

From the perspective of international diplomacy, of course, this is a positive development. Contrary to the arguments of critics, the nuclear deal appears so far to be working in all the respects that it was intended to. It’s true that we have other issues to deal with when it comes to Iran, including their ongoing missile development program and their support for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas as well their support for the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. These, however, are issues separate and apart from the nuclear weapons program and are not part of the deal that was reached in Geneva last year. As I said at the time, while that deal was imperfect it was the best deal that could have been made at the time and it ought to be abided by as long as the Iranians are complying with their obligations as well. Since it appears from the available evidence that they are, pulling out now would be an exceedingly bad idea.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    So, once again, the Trump foreign policy is Obama + Random Threats – Comprehension. Obama but LOUDER.

  2. Kylopod says:

    Trump’s slogan should be the reverse of Teddy Roosevelt’s: Speak loudly and carry small…hands.

  3. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: You left out “more snarling.”

  4. rachel says:

    The only ways Trump does something right is either by downright accident or when he’s cornered like a trapped weasel. This looks like a case of option 2.