President Trump To Decide Whether To Waive Sanctions On Iran

Jan 12, 2018
Originally published on January 12, 2018 6:24 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump has another chance to reimpose sanctions on Iran today. In the past, the president has promised to scrap the Iran nuclear deal and bring back sanctions. Although, so far, he has chosen to keep the status quo. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is with us in the studio this morning. Hi, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's going to happen today?

MYRE: Well, we got a hint yesterday. The treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said, I expect new sanctions. That sounds like potentially a big deal...

MARTIN: Right.

MYRE: ...But probably something we've seen from the playbook in the past, which is limited sanctions against the company or a few individuals, sort of a slap on the wrist, the intent being to show that the Trump administration is keeping pressure on Iran but does not want to blow up the entire nuclear deal.

MARTIN: Got it. So we're expecting the president to again keep the deal in place?

MYRE: I don't want to give you a guarantee on that. But we are sort of expecting that he'll, again, decertify the deal, which he did in October. And that's mostly symbolic. And that there's these sanctions, oil and banking sanctions, which have been suspended every few months by President Obama and now President Trump. We expect he will continue to suspend those sanctions. If he reimposed them, that would be a big deal. Iran would complain loudly and the whole deal could unravel.

MARTIN: Just take a step back and explain why we end up talking about this every few months because there are a couple different obligations that the president has under the original deal, right?

MYRE: Yeah, and I think the president is probably wondering about that himself. And you have to go back to the Obama administration. And the Republicans in Congress sort of wanted to hold the president's feet to the fire and make him come out every three or four months and say, OK, is the nuclear deal still working? Is this...

MARTIN: Make him take ownership over it.

MYRE: Absolutely, absolutely. And he had to do that. But now that's carried over to the Trump presidency. And so Trump says, I hate this deal. It's the worst deal ever. Yet every three or four months, he has to come out and make these decisions on it, and he wants to show how much he dislikes it. But the advice he's getting from defense secretary, secretary of state is Iran is still technically in compliance, and it would be a bad idea to blow it up. We don't have the support of the Europeans and others. So very grudgingly he makes this decision every three, four months.

MARTIN: So this particular decision is happening in the context of these protests that we've seen on the streets of Iran. How's that playing into the decision, if at all?

MYRE: Well, it certainly made it a bigger debate right now. And it's reenergized, I think, both sides of the debate. Those who are critical of the nuclear deal say, this is exactly what we were worried about. Iran could still behave badly. It can crack down on protesters. It can fund militant groups around the region. It's not changing Iranian behavior, and they're getting more money from the sanctions relief. So they can - you know, they're feeling a little bit better about things.

But the supporters of the deal say, this was strictly a deal about the nuclear program and Iran is complying. They have scaled back and frozen their nuclear program. This was the intent. It's working. And even if you did, if you reimpose the sanctions, the Europeans and others are not going to buy back in, so they wouldn't be nearly as effective as they were a few years ago.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's national security correspondent, Greg Myre. Thanks so much, Greg.

MYRE: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.