Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, Bob Corker of Tennessee said Trump and European leaders remain far apart in negotiations, prompted last January when the president gave a May 12 deadline for Britain, France and Germany to come up with “fixes” to the accord.
Since then, the “E3” powers – which were party to the 2013-2015 nuclear talks – have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program and its role in Syria’s civil war. Neither issue is addressed in the nuclear deal, which deals exclusively with Iran’s nuclear program. But Trump believes the nuclear deal and the sanctions relief that came with it have empowered Tehran in other policy spheres.
“The Iran deal will be another issue that’s coming up in May, and right now it doesn’t feel like it’s gonna be extended,” Corker told CBS’s Margaret Brennan. “I think the president likely will move away from it unless our European counterparts really come together on a framework. And it doesn’t feel to me that they are.”
Trump has asked both Europe and Congress to come up with fixes to the accord including, but not limited to, new sanctions on its ballistic missile program and its “malign” behavior across the Middle East. He also wants new terms added onto the deal unilaterally: for some of its key provisions to be extended through US mandate and for the West to demand greater access to Iran’s military sites that once hosted nuclear weapons experimentation.
While a majority of Congress on a bipartisan basis opposed the agreement in 2015, the bipartisan consensus now is that scrapping the deal would have negative consequences on America’s foreign alliances and its credibility on the international stage – critical assets for fixing the agreement down the line. Corker himself is among this majority, seeking a way forward that strengthens the deal while keeping the US in line with its commitments across executive administrations.
As a byproduct of this consensus, however, Congress has failed to come up with a legislative fix that satisfies Trump’s desire to fundamentally disrupt the accord and fulfill his oft-stated campaign promise to “rip up” the deal early on in his presidency.
Meanwhile, White House officials view the latest E3-sanctions proposal as short of what Trump called for in his January ultimatum. European powers refuse to reopen the deal or to make unilateral alterations – actions that Tehran says will be treated as breaches of the accord.
Asked by Brennan if he believed Trump would pull out on May 12 – the deadline for the president to issue a new waiver to suspend Iran sanctions as part of the deal – Corker responded, “I do, I do.”
At the time Trump issued that deadline, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, promptly launched negotiations with the E3 in hopes of finding a way forward. But Trump fired Tillerson last week, in part over his views on the deal and his handling of the talks.
“When you look at the Iran deal – I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “I guess [Tillerson] thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same. With [Trump’s intended replacement for Tillerson] Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process.”