‘Calm before the storm’: Donald Trump set to abandon Iran nuclear deal

US president says Tehran is breaking spirit of landmark Obama-era agreement and will reportedly refuse to certify it.

Donald Trump has accused Iran of not living up to the “spirit of the agreement” of its nuclear deal amid reports that he plans to withhold endorsement of the landmark agreement with the international community.

At a meeting of military leaders, Trump warned cryptically that those present were witnessing “the calm before the storm”. When asked by reporters what he meant, the president, a former reality TV host, said: “You’ll find out.”

Several media outlets on Friday confirmed what has been suspected in Washington and foreign capitals for some time: that Trump will not certify the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran, on the grounds it does not serve US security interests.

That would trigger a period of 60 days in which it would be up to a delicately balanced Congress whether to reimpose sanctions. A decision to do so could trigger a collapse of the deal and a return to a tense standoff in the Middle East over the Iranian nuclear programme.

“The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence and chaos across the Middle East,” Trump said at a White House meeting of US military leaders.

“That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he added. “You will be hearing about Iran very shortly.”

The statement was made as he sat alongside senior security officials, the most senior of whom have said repeatedly that Iran is abiding by the 2015 nuclear agreement.

The defence secretary, James Mattis, said this week that staying with the deal, under which Iran accepted strict curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, was in US national security interests.

The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Dunford, recently said that pulling out of the multilateral deal, which was signed by some of Washington’s closest allies, would affect US credibility and could hinder its ability to strike security agreements in the future.

Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and national security adviser, HR McMaster, are both thought to have advised Trump not to withhold certification. The European signatories to the deal – the UK, France and Germany – have urged Trump to uphold it, and are now focusing their energies on lobbying Congress not to reimpose sanctions, which could prove fatal to the agreement.

Business leaders who gathered for an Iran-Europe forum in Switzerland this week said they were prepared to do everything possible to salvage the deal in the event of a US withdrawal.

A senior executive at a European multinational company, who asked to remain anonymous, said he expected the US president to de-certify the deal but he believed that would not amount to the end of the agreement.

“There is a lot of serious diplomacy by Europeans at all levels, from prime ministers to policymakers, to make sure the agreement would survive and there are talks of retaliatory legislation or protective legislations like the ones in place in the early 2000s,” the executive said.

The non-certification of the Iran deal threatens to trigger a second nuclear standoff at a time when the US is already immersed in one with North Korea.

That crisis has escalated recently with Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, a series of intermediate and intercontinental missile tests, and a war of words between the US president and North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.

An expert on the North Korean weapons programme, Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, expressed alarm that Trump’s warning of a coming storm could have been interpreted by America’s adversaries in ways the president never considered.

“This is the kind of idle threat that, made at the wrong time, could trigger an unexpected escalation on the Korean peninsula,” Lewis tweeted. “Please stop.”

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