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Trump expected to allow Iran sanctions, paving way to pull US out of deal

President Donald Trump (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Tuesday he will allow sanctions to go forward on Iran, effectively withdrawing from the touchstone nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor, according to a US official and a person familiar with the plan.

The sanctions could take months to go into effect as the US government develops guidance for companies and banks. But reapplying the sanctions — which were lifted in exchange for Iran’s commitment to curb its nuclear program — would cripple the 2015 accord that Trump has deemed “the single worst deal I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody.”

The officials cautioned nothing is final until Trump makes his announcement from the Diplomatic Room of the White House at 2 p.m. and held out the possibility that he could change course.

Long a harsh critic of the nuclear accord, Trump has so far resisted taking steps to fully quit the plan. His announcement Tuesday to allow sanctions to go ahead would amount to the firmest action yet toward fulfilling his campaign promise to rip it up. The grace period until the sanctions are imposed may offer the deal’s proponents an opening to negotiate. But the uncertainty is expected to forestall foreign investments in Iran that were made possible by the pact.

Trump was keeping his decision closely held. Marc Short, the President’s legislative director, said lawmakers would be notified later Tuesday afternoon. Trump planned to speak with foreign counterparts on Tuesday morning. He spoke early in the day with Chinese President Xi Jinping and phoned French President Emmanuel Macron mid-morning.

A French source familiar with the call between Trump and Macron described the conversation as ” very, very disappointing.”

Macron was one of several European leaders who had lobbied Trump to remain in the deal, arguing it remains the best way to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Both Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Washington to make their appeals in person.

Trump told them the deal failed to address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its support of terror in the Middle East. They appeared receptive and began negotiations on a separate deal that would address his concerns. But European diplomats expressed only pessimism that their efforts would be successful.

“It’s pretty obvious to me that unless something changes in the next few days, I believe the President will not waive the sanctions,” one European diplomat told reporters on Monday.

The sanctions Trump is expected to allow to move forward target Iran’s oil exports. The status of additional actions remained unclear, though some officials suggested Trump would leave additional sanctions for a later date.

A senior administration official said most of the work done behind the scenes in the West Wing leading up to the announcement was to prepare for a withdrawal, including developing communications strategies. But the official offered the same caution as others: no decision is considered final until Trump makes his announcement.

The decision would strike a blow to the nuclear deal, though other signatories to the plan, including Germany, France and the UK, have said they will maintain their commitments.

But new US sanctions would undoubtedly cause companies to reconsider investments in Iran and European firms may have no choice but to scale back or risk running afoul of US rules.

The grace period could allow for further negotiations between US allies on a side agreement that addresses Trump’s concerns about the missile program and Tehran’s support for terror groups. But even if a deal is struck, it’s not clear how they would convince Iran to sign on, or whether Russia and China — two other partners to the deal — would agree.