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Trump Toughens Iran Strategy, Decertifies Tehran's Compliance With Accord

Saying Iran is not living up to the spirit of a two-year-old nuclear agreement it signed with Western powers, President Donald Trump Friday unveiled a tough new strategy toward Tehran, including additional sanctions aimed at blocking the regime’s path to develop nuclear weapons.

“Today, I am announcing our strategy along with several major steps we are taking to confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions and to ensure that Iran never — and I mean never — acquires a nuclear weapon,” Trump said in a nationally televised address at the White House.

He stopped short of pulling the United States out of the 2015 deal involving Iran, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and the European Union. But he said he would no longer certify Iran’s compliance with its terms, effectively giving Congress 60 days to consider whether further action is necessary.

“We cannot and will not make this certification,” Trump said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran's nuclear breakout.”

WATCH: 'We Cannot and Will Not Make This Certification'

Congressional action

He said he had directed his administration to “work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal's many serious flaws, so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.”

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said. “It is under continuous review and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time.”

The president also announced additional sanctions against Iranian individuals and leaders, including members of the brutal Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian supreme leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia,” Trump told the nation. “I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents and affiliates.”

Briefing reporters on the new policy Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear that the new policy would not alter the U.S. commitment to the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It does, however, require Congress to reconsider the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), a U.S. law that requires the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is complying with the accord.

Tillerson said the administration is urging Congress to strengthen the INARA law to include “trigger points” that would automatically snap sanctions back into place should Iran violate the deal.

He said congressional action to set trigger points would send a strong message of U.S. resolve to ensure Tehran does not develop nuclear weapons.

“That’s what the president has asked us to do. Either put more teeth into this obligation Iran has undertaken for all the benefits and the sanctions relief they have received … or let’s just forget the whole thing and we'll walk away and we'll start all over,” he said.

WATCH: Highlights of Trump's Speech on Iran Nuclear Deal

Pledge action

Congressional Republican leaders immediately promised support for the new strategy and pledged to work with the president.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would introduce legislation to address the JCPOA. Corker said the bill would not violate the U.S. commitment to the nuclear deal.

A group of House Republicans led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce of California and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Texas issued a statement saying the JCPOA has “significant flaws that must be addressed.”

“We'll take an important step to that end on the House floor by passing bills to increase sanctions unrelated to JCPOA that target Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program," the statement said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan issued a similar statement.

WATCH: Trump Says Iran Non-Compliant with Nuke Deal

Democratic reactions were more critical.

Sen. Bob Melendez, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Trump's move to decertify Iran's compliance does nothing to achieve U.S. policy objectives.

“We want to … avoid a scenario in which the Iranian regime… uses decertification as an excuse not just to abandon all of its obligations in the JCPOA, but also to continue building its conventional weapons arsenal, funding terrorism, prolonging strife in Iraq and Syria, and pursuing policies that threaten the security of the United States and our allies,” Menendez wrote. “None of these critical security objectives are advanced by simply not certifying the JCPOA.”

Global reaction

European powers France, Britain and Germany together issued a statement following Trump's address, saying preservation of the JCPOA with Iran is “in our joint national interest.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Friday said his country sees the JCPOA as non-negotiable, and would remain committed to it as long at it serves the national interests.

In a nationally televised address, Rouhani charged that Trump’s comments were full of “insults and fake accusations” against Iran.

“The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure. … Iran and the deal are stronger than ever. ... Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will continue its fight against regional terrorists," Rouhani said.

Obama administration officials involved in crafting the agreement say any attempt to tinker with it is fraught with numerous pitfalls, and will require close coordination with allies and lawmakers.

“This action is completely unnecessary and arbitrary,” said Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser to former President Barack Obama. “The question at play in certification is whether or not Iran is complying with terms of the nuclear deal, and as you know, the Trump administration itself has twice certified that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal.”

Gary Samore, who held senior positions on arms control and non-proliferation in the Obama and Clinton administrations, described Trump's move as “mostly political theater.”

“President Trump gets to denounce the Iran agreement, which he’s heavily criticized, but at the same time, the U.S. will continue to comply with the agreement by waiving sanctions. So for now, it really doesn’t change anything,” Samore told VOA.

“President Trump found it embarrassing and irritating to have to certify this ‘bad deal’ every 90 days, and he made it clear to his advisers that he wasn't' going to do that anymore,” Samore added. “And they've come up with a way for him to stop performing this task but not destroy the agreement.”

Quote of the Day:
“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”

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