President Donald Trump declared today that he will not certify the Iran nuclear agreement, arguing the deal does not serve U.S. national security interests. “I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification,” he said during a speech at the White House. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran's nuclear breakthrough.” He further threatened that his administration will walk away from the accord – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – if the White House fails to “reach a solution working with Congress and our allies” to fix loopholes in the deal. "History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes," Trump added – perhaps in a reference to North Korea.
In addition, Trump said the U.S. government will take punitive actions against the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), Iran’s elite force that supports militant groups in South Asia and the Middle East. Just an hour before the president’s speech, the Department of Treasury announced that it has designated the I.R.G.C. under terrorism authority and targeted IRGC and its affiliates under counter-proliferation authority. A statement by the Treasury said: “Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pursuant to the global terrorism Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 and consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. OFAC designated the IRGC today for its activities in support of the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), which was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on October 25, 2007, for providing support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hizballah and Hamas, as well as to the Taliban.”
Comment: By decertifying the Iran accord, President Trump did not walk away from the deal but tasked Congress to decide on the issue within the next 60 days. Congress now has three options: re-impose nuclear-related sanctions and annul the nuclear agreement; pass a new legislation to fix what the administration calls fundamental flaws in the deal; or simply do nothing. Trump, however, warned that barring congressional action, he will terminate the deal himself. According to administration, the nuclear deal’s main flaws are that its sunset provisions allow Iran to resume nuclear enrichment after a decade, and the deal also does not allow for an inspection of Iran’s military sites. Iranian leaders have ruled out the possibility of allowing international inspectors to visit the country’s military installations. The Trump administration also wants Iran to halt its testing of ballistic missiles, another U.S. demand that Iran has said will not accept.
During the next two months, the Trump administration will most likely get the support of European powers, and perhaps with Russia and China as well, to pressure Iran to renegotiate the deal and fix the so-called loopholes. But Tehran has emphasized that it will not renegotiate the terms of the deal.
If Congress reinstates sanctions, Iran may either abandon the deal and resume high-level enrichment, or stay in the deal and work with Europeans, Russia, China and other international powers to minimize the impact of U.S. sanctions. But if the Rouhani government chooses the latter, it will come under tremendous pressure from hardliners at home who opposed the deal at the first place. The designation of the I.R.G.C. also puts pressure on the Rouhani government to take retaliatory measures against the U.S.
Last weekend, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the I.R.G.C.’s chief commander, cautioned that if Washington goes ahead with the “stupid decision,” his forces will treat U.S. soldiers in the Middle East and across the world the same as Islamic State terrorists – adding that U.S. will also have to leave its military bases in the region to avoid Iranian missiles. The I.R.G.C. commander further emphasized that any new U.S. sanctions would end the prospect of further dialogue forever – arguing that such a move would prove that Washington exploits negotiation as a tactic to put pressure on its adversaries rather than resolve disputes diplomatically.
The deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Brigadier General Massoud Jazzayeri issued a similar warning, saying that Iran will confront the Trump administration’s “aggressive policies” by “teaching America new lessons.” Hinting that Iran may take action against U.S. interests in the region, Jazzayeri said “the era of America’s presence and domination in West Asia has come to an end,” adding that the Trump administration “needs some shocks to learn the new concept of power in today’s world.” He further emphasized that Tehran will not succumb to U.S. pressure and will continue to enhance its missile and defensive capabilities.
While the I.R.G.C.’s threat to launch missile attacks against U.S. bases in the region appears to be mere bluster, the elite force has a long history of waging asymmetrical warfare against the U.S. military in the region. Thus, any potential response to harm U.S. interests will most likely come from Iran’s regional proxies, particularly in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.