By MARK LANDLERMay 8, 2018
The president called the nuclear agreement a “horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.”Doug Mills/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump declared on Tuesday that he was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, unraveling the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and isolating the United States among its Western allies.
“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Mr. Trump said at the White House in announcing his decision. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.”
Mr. Trump’s announcement, while long anticipated and widely telegraphed, plunges America’s relations with European allies into deep uncertainty. They have committed to staying in the deal, raising the prospect of a diplomatic and economic clash as the United States reimposes stringent sanctions on Iran.
It also raises the prospect of increasing tensions with Russia and China, which also are parties to the agreement.
In a joint statement, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany urged Iran to “continue to meet its own obligations under the deal,” despite the American withdrawal.
“We encourage Iran to show restraint in response to the decision by the U.S.,” the statement said. Separately, in a post on Twitter, Mr. Macron said the European allies “regret” Mr. Trump’s decision, adding, “The international regime against nuclear proliferation is at stake.”
One person familiar with negotiations to keep the accord in place said the talks collapsed over Mr. Trump’s insistence that sharp limits be kept on Iran’s nuclear fuel production after 2030. The deal currently lifts those limits.
As a result, the United States is now preparing to reinstate all sanctions it had waived as part of the nuclear accord — and impose additional economic penalties as well, according to another person briefed on Mr. Trump’s decision.
The withdrawal fulfills one of Mr. Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promises, and came despite intense personal lobbying by European leaders and frantic attempts to craft fixes to the deal that would satisfy him. In part, Mr. Trump was driven by the conviction that taking a tough line with Iran would help an upcoming negotiation with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, whom he plans to meet in the next several weeks.
He also announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to North Korea to continue discussions with Mr. Kim about the meeting. Asked if the three Americans who are detained in North Korea would return with Mr. Pompeo, the president signaled that was a real possibility.
But Mr. Trump made clear that his patience with the deal had worn thin, and with a new, more hawkish set of advisers — led by Mr. Pompeo and the national security adviser, John R. Bolton — the president faced less internal resistance this time.
He said the United States and its allies could not stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon “under the decaying and rotten structure of the current deal.”
“The Iran deal is defective at its core,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel promptly hailed Mr. Trump for his “historic move” and “courageous leadership” in ending an agreement that he said failed its purpose.
“The deal didn’t push war further away, it actually brought it closer,” he said. “The deal didn’t reduce Iran’s aggression, it dramatically increased it, and we see this across the entire Middle East.”
Mr. Trump’s decision capped a frantic four-day period in which American and European diplomats made a last-ditch effort to bridge their differences and preserve the agreement.
On Friday, Mr. Pompeo called his counterparts in Europe to tell them that Mr. Trump was planning to withdraw, but that he was trying to win a two-week reprieve for the United States and Europe to continue negotiating.
Mr. Pompeo, people familiar with the talks said, suggested that he favored a so-called soft withdrawal, in which Mr. Trump would pull out of the deal but hold off on reimposing some of the sanctions.
On Saturday, the State Department’s chief negotiator, Brian Hook, consulted with European diplomats to try to break a deadlock over the so-called “sunset provisions,” under which the restrictions on Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel for civilian use expire after 15 years.
The Europeans had already agreed to a significant compromise: to reimpose sanctions if there was a determination that the Iranians were within 12 months of producing a nuclear weapon. But officials said that still did not satisfy Mr. Trump, and the Europeans were not willing to go any farther.
By Monday, the White House began informing allies that Mr. Trump was going to withdraw from the deal and reimpose oil sanctions and secondary sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran.
Mr. Trump has also instructed the Treasury Department to develop additional sanctions against Iran, a process that could take several weeks.
Under the financial sanctions, European companies will have between 90 days and 180 days to wind down their operations in Iran, or they will run afoul of the American banking system. The oil sanctions will require European and Asian countries to reduce their imports from Iran.
For all the frenzied maneuvering, Mr. Trump seems to have made up his mind several weeks ago. When Mr. Macron visited him two weeks ago, officials said, Mr. Trump told the president that he planned to pull out of the deal on May 12, adding, “I haven’t told Melania yet.”
David E.Sanger and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.