The Trump administration is laying the groundwork to abandon the landmark nuclear deal with Iran if European allies fail to fix the agreement and close key loopholes that have allowed the Islamic Republic to continue sensitive nuclear research and develop advanced ballistic missiles, according to senior administration officials and top lawmakers who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about sensitive ongoing diplomatic talks.
Senior Trump administration officials have been pressuring European allies to agree to a range of fixes to the nuclear deal that would address Iran's military intervention across the Middle East, as well as its ongoing efforts to develop advanced ballistic missile technology that could be used to carry a nuclear weapon.
Key European governments in recent days have expressed opposition to Trump administration efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran, instead pushing the United States to go along with weaker, cosmetic changes that insiders view as appeasing Iran.
If these allies fail over the next several months to fix a range of flaws with the deal that the Trump administration views as vital, America will walk away from the agreement, senior administration officials made clear in a range of comments to the Free Beacon.
U.S. officials say they are already making clear their intent to abandon the nuclear accord and are preparing the international community for such a reality, which will come within the next 90 days, according to those officials apprised of the situation.
"We are dedicated to working with our allies to neutralize and counter the regime's destabilizing influence and support for terrorist proxies, restore a more stable balance of power in the region, and secure agreement with European allies to address the flaws of the nuclear deal in the next 120 days or U.S. will withdraw from the deal," a senior White House National Security Council official told the Free Beacon.
The United States will no longer authorize massive sanctions relief that has provided Iran with billions of dollars for its military efforts should European allies fail to address a slew of shortfalls the Trump administration views as critical to making the current deal effective.
State Department officials are said to be in agreement with the White House over leaving the deal, telling the Free Beacon that if European allies fail to address key flaws in the deal, the United States will stop providing Iran with sanctions relief and kill the deal.
"This is a last chance," a State Department official told the Free Beacon. "In the absence of a commitment from our European allies to work with us to fix the deal's flaws, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. And if at any time the president judges that agreement is not within reach, the United States will withdraw from the deal immediately."
In addition to cracking down on Iran's continued ballistic missile program, the United States is pressuring European allies to stop the funding of Iranian entities tied to the country's Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, Tehran's terror force that controls large swaths of Iran's economy.
The United States also wants the Iranian terror proxy group Hezbollah designated globally as a terror group and is seeking a series of measures that would choke Iran's access to advanced weaponry.
Despite public assurance from the Trump administration, those close to the White House have been quietly expressing concern the United States will cave to European pressure. These sources view the State Department as working only to secure cosmetic changes to the nuclear agreement that do not go nearly as far as the president has demanded.
Sources close to administration conversations with European allies said there are signs the United States may walk back key demands in order to preserve the deal and not upset these allies.
Top lawmakers in Congress say they are paying close attention to the Trump administration’s diplomacy and told the Free Beacon they would not go along with cosmetic changes to the deal being advocated by European allies.
"Nations in the European Union have traditionally taken a soft stance towards the Iranian regime and so it is not surprising that they refuse to recognize the folly of the Obama-Khamenei nuclear deal," Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon. "The Trump administration should lead the way and seek significant new sanctions that punishes Iran for its belligerent conduct. We shouldn't let European intransigence prevent us from doing the right thing."
Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), a vocal critic of the deal who has led multiple efforts to increase restrictions on Tehran's terror machine, told the Free Beacon that aesthetic tweaks to the deal are not enough for the U.S. Congress to support it. Iran's nuclear and military intransigence must be fully addressed, he said.
"The clock is ticking to fix the major deficiencies of the Iran deal," Roskam said. "Symbolic tweaks or half-hearted guarantees for future actions that do not permanently prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon or the means to deliver one are unacceptable. Any fix must address our red lines—halt work on nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, make nuclear restrictions permanent and guarantee a fool-proof inspection regime—regardless of its impact on Europe's bottom line."
"The JCPOA is not sacrosanct or the end-all, be-all strategy to combat the Iranian threat," Roskam said, referring to the nuclear deal by its official acronym. "We have many other options to counter Iran and guarantee our core national security interests—passage of the Iran Freedom Policy and Sanctions Act is a step in this direction."
Sen. David Perdue also warned of the shortcomings of the Iranian nuclear deals.
"Iran's ballistic missile program, sponsorship of terrorism, and support for brutal dictators run counter to the security interests we share with our European partners," a Perdue spokesperson said. "Iran must be held accountable. There is no way around it. Senator Perdue urges our European partners to rethink their stance and work with us to get tougher on Iran. Reining in this bad actor will require the cooperation of all our allies."
Both the State Department and White House NSC vowed to push tough reforms to the deal in public comments this week to the Free Beacon.
The White House and State Department have been locked in sensitive negotiations with European allies as it scrambles to save the deal and preserve the Obama administration's key foreign policy success, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
"The U.S., E3, and EU are each bringing their expertise to the table," according to an NSC official "We are facing the threat of Iran's adventurism together. Time is of the essence: We are witnessing on a daily basis how Iran, alongside Russia, has propped up the murderous Assad regime and fueled a proxy war in Yemen. We will leverage our collective resources and join within and outside the UN to end this destructive behavior while ensuring that Iran is permanently denied a path to a nuclear weapon."
The Trump administration is primarily concerned with a series of provisions in the current nuclear deal that permits Iran to engage in sensitive nuclear work in the coming years. These provisions, known as sunset clauses, were built into the deal as incentives to ensure Iran complies in the short-term.
Critics of the agreement have said the sunset clauses and other provisions that deny international nuclear inspectors access to key Iranian military sites render the deal ineffective. The Trump administration has agreed, and has given European allies a 120-day deadline to fix the deal, or see the United States abandon it.
"We are working closely with our European partners to address our shared concerns with the JCPOA and Iran's malign behavior," a State Department official told the Free Beacon.
Talks last week between European and U.S. allies were "productive," but there still remains an impasse between the sides over key issues—such as sunset clauses and the inability to inspect key Iranian nuclear sites.
Officials "discussed the areas the president has identified last month where we wants to see improvements—including ensuring Iran never comes close to a nuclear weapon and addressing our concerns with the sunset dates, taking strong action if Iran refuses IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspections, and preventing Iran from developing or testing a long-range ballistic missile," the official said. "There is broad agreement on the areas that need strengthening, but how that's done in each of the three areas is the subject of our negotiations."
The U.S. and European delegations attempted to tackle a range of issues related to the nuclear portfolio, such as international funding for the IRGC and its military proxies, Iran's ballistic missile program, and Tehran's continued aggression against Western forces in the Middle East, the official said.
The Trump administration has come under fire from congressional critics of the nuclear deal for repeatedly waiving sanctions on Iran every 120 days as part of U.S. obligations under the agreement.
President Donald Trump, in issuing the last round of sanctions waivers, promised this would be the last time the United States does this unless European allies agree to the range of fixes outlined above.
"The president was clear that he approved the issuance of sanctions waivers in January only in order to give us time to secure our European allies' agreement to fix the JCPOAs terrible flaws," the State Department official said. "The deal's greatest flaw is that its restrictions sunset over time, leaving Iran free in the future to pursue industrial scale nuclear fuel enrichment, an important step in achieving a rapid nuclear weapons breakout capability."
Congressional sources working on the matter and familiar with the Trump administration's diplomacy said many are preparing for the White House to abandon the deal in lieu of the required fixes.
"The administration needs to prepare for the possibility that the president could withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," one senior congressional source working on the matter told the Free Beacon.
However, many entrenched U.S. diplomats in both the State Department and White House still believe they can convince Trump to stay in the agreement.
"It's not clear that senior officials have seriously thought through this possibility, let alone done planning for it," said the congressional source. "They're instead apparently focusing efforts on a creating a diplomatic fig leaf to convince the president that the Iran deal's profound flaws has been fixed when they actually haven't been."