President Donald Trump makes a statement on Iran's nuclear deal with the White House diplomatic reception on Tuesday, May 8, 201
Hesitating and screaming into the After five months of negotiations, America's closest allies in Europe had finally agreed to the strictest of Trump's demands. They admitted that in the long run it could be hoped that Iran would never be more than a year away from building a bomb. All that was left was to figure out the creative language, how to formulate that restriction that anyone could support.
Trump left the agreement anyway. When he announced that the US was out, he cited the 2015 pact, which his predecessor had "essentially flawed," and said the US would immediately reintroduce the sanctions lifted under the agreement.
"We can not let a deal hurt the world," added Trump on Wednesday, as the world tried to figure out what would come next.
Behind the scenes, however, the Trump administration had been preparing for retreat since January, when Trump declared that he would retire -on "the deal was not reached – for many US officials it was as clear then as it is today that the President would not even accept a toughened version of the deal.
This report on how Trump withdrew from the deal is based on Wednesday interviews with a dozen White House officials, State Department officials, foreign diplomats and Trump's external advisers involved in the negotiations, most of whom were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump had just celebrated the anniversary of the Presidency in January When he gave his ultimatum: If there is no solution by May 12 US would be out, there was no chance that three of the Dea l members – Iran, Russia and China – would consider changes. Trump focused on the Europeans – Germany, Britain and France – hoping that the rest would go as soon as a fix was agreed the rest.
"This is one last chance," said Trump.
Immediately, a team led by State Department Chief of Police Brian Hook, began to negotiate intensively with the Europeans about the issues Trump highlighted: new penalties for Iranian ballistic missile inspections, expanded access to UN nuclear inspectors, and an expansion of restrictions Iranian enrichment beyond the current contract life.
It was not long before the US found the Europeans susceptible to the first case two. The third was a non-starter. After all, the terms of the 2015 deal expressly say that the restrictions "sunset" over time. Any extension without the express consent of Iran would lead the Europeans themselves to violate the deal.
An additional agreement was drafted, refined, and restated as the negotiations proceeded on which mechanism should be used to hold the Iranians indefinitely. At least one draft contained footnotes stating that the same nuclear parameters should continue in the 2015 deal: no more than 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges, no uranium supplies larger than 300 kilograms, no enrichment beyond 3.67 percent, and no advanced centrifuges. according to a person who has read the draft.
At the United Nations, US Ambassador Nikki Haley launched a parallel effort to encourage France and Britain to exacerbate other Iranian behaviors, such as supporting Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Haley's argument with the Europeans: If you help us with these side-quests, you can only help Trump stay in business.
But in the White House, senior executives were skeptical that anything would satisfy Trump. After all, the president had already told his helpers that he refuses to renounce sanctions against Iran again. So the White House and National Security Council officials began to lay the foundations for a US withdrawal while negotiations with the Europeans were already underway.
As the May deadline drew nearer, Europeans became increasingly worried about scraping the deal. And so began a parade of visits of their leaders in the White House to make the case personal.
First came French President Emmanuel Macron, the European leader closest to Trump. Not only did he address the problem during a state visit, but he also took the extraordinary step of emphasizing the point in a speech to a joint session of the Congress.
"We have signed it, both the United States and France," Macron said the pact. "That's why we can not say that we should free ourselves from it."
The Germans followed days later, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressing European openness to work with Trump to crack down on Iran. The closing price was left to British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who even appeared on Trump-friendly "Fox & Friends" to urge him not to leave.
Johnson and the others came up with clever solutions to permanently extend Washington's restrictions on Iran. The Europeans were solid on one point: they could not unilaterally impose on Iran what he had not accepted in the deal. But there were ideas to use other mechanisms that did not expire, such as monitoring Iran's civilian nuclear needs to ensure that they stayed within their borders and were not approaching bombs.
At the time Johnson arrived It became clear that the ongoing negotiations were pointless. And on Monday Trump tweeted that he would announce his decision at 14 o'clock. Tuesday – almost a week before his appointment.
His decision was severely quarantined to the end, and even most White House, State Department and Treasury officials were not sure what he had decided. The State Department and the Ministry of Finance prepared three versions of the public statements and technical guidelines that would have to be published with their decision: one for the whereabouts, one for the full withdrawal and one interim option, with only a few sanctions being reinstated immediately. The possibility that the US might later change course and stay there may be preserved.
Trump's government has not explicitly told the Europeans he is withdrawing. In a conversation with Macron, shortly before his announcement, Trump made it clear that he was still keen on the deal, but let Macron guess exactly what he would do.
He and the other Europeans learned when everyone else did: when Trump appeared on live television in the diplomatic reception room and said he was outside.
"The fact is that this was a terrible one-sided deal that should never have been done," said Trump. "It did not bring peace, it did not bring peace, and it never will."
Associated Press author Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP
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