What are Donald Trump’s objections to the Iran nuclear deal?

The US president is threatening to pull the country out of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. DW examines why Trump is considering dropping the deal and who shares his concerns on Iran.

UN Generalversammlung in New York | Donald Trump, Präsident USA (Getty Images/AFP/T.A. Clary)

The “worst deal ever”: That is how US President Donald Trump describes the 2015 landmark Iran nuclear accord. He repeatedly has signaled that the United States will withdraw from or revise the agreement, a threat he reiterated most recently during Tuesday’s speech at the UN General Assembly. 

Both the US State Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran has abided by the agreement, and nuclear non-proliferation experts and other international powers that brokered the deal are pressing the White House to stay in.

So why is the Trump administration against the nuclear accord?

The answer lies with the deal’s alleged weaknesses and, equally important, non-nuclear related issues that the Trump administration would now like to bring onto the negotiating table, such as Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Islamic republic’s expanding influence in the Middle East.

Watch video00:38

Trump slams Iran at United Nations

Read more: Donald Trump and the Iran nuclear deal – a crisis in the making

What does the Iran nuclear deal do?

Under the 2015 deal negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany), Tehran agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of crushing international sanctions and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets. Under the deal, Iran is permitted to maintain a small amount of nuclear-related activity and uranium stockpiles for research and medicine purposes.

However, the quantities are far below any threshold that would allow the fast and unannounced development of nuclear weapons. In effect, Iran is allowed peaceful nuclear research just as any other country.

Objection: delay but not prevent

At the time of the deal, Western intelligence agencies estimated it would take Iran as little as one year to produce a nuclear weapon. The 2015 accord restricted Iran’s nuclear-related activities for 10 to 15 years. After this period expires, the deal will need to be renegotiated or Iran could theoretically restart its nuclear weapons program.

Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei (Irna)Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has accused Trump of unfair criticism of the country’s nuclear programs

If Iran then were to choose to pursue nuclear weapons, it would start from a lower starting point that would buy time for the international community to respond.

But the Trump administration finds this ‘sunset clause’ —  essentially the accord’s expiration date — to be problematic because it delays, rather than prevents, Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb. The White House’s concerns echo Israel’s, which has argued that the nuclear issue cannot be kicked down the road.

Read more: Ayatollah Khamenei slams US ‘bullying’ on nuclear deal

Objection: covert nuclear activity?

The deal also allows the IAEA inspections regime  to monitor declared nuclear facilities, storage facilities and supply chains.

However, the Trump administration argues that the nuclear accord does not provide access to restricted military sites that could be used for a covert weapons development program. It has demanded that inspectors gain access to these sites, something that Iran has rejected.

Supporters of the deal argue that any covert program would be spotted through existing monitoring provisions of existing facilities and supply chains.

Objection: ballistic missiles

The wording of UN resolution authorizing the nuclear deal is vague on ballistic missiles. It “calls upon” — but does not require —Iran not to carry out work “related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

Iran says its ballistic missiles are conventional weapons that are not “designed to” carry nuclear warheads even if they are “capable of” delivering them. Since Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons, Tehran argues, the UN resolution does not apply to its ballistic missile program.

But the Trump administration argues that the missile program violates the nature of the deal and views it as a threat to US Gulf Arab allies and Israel. The US has slapped a number of sanctions on Iranover the program, causing Tehran in turn to accuse the US of going against the spirit of the accord.

Iran makes missiles tests (picture-alliance/dpa/Defence Ministry Iran)Iran launches a ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in March 2016

Objection: funds for ‘destabilizing activities’

Under the nuclear deal, a good chuck of Iran’s internationally frozen assets, valuing some $100 billion, were released. The Trump administration argues that is bad because this money can be used to fund Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East and support of terrorist groups.

US grievances include Iran’s hostility to Israel, its engagement in Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic Republic’s wide regional support for various Shiite militant groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as for Hamas, the militant Islamist organization in the Gaza Strip.

Furthermore, Washington and Israel are concerned that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a security and military organization separate from the regular armed forces, and Hezbollah are setting up bases on Israel’s doorstep in southern Syria.

Read more: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad: Propped up by Tehran and Moscow

Trump visits Saudi Arabia (picture-alliance/abaca)In May, Trump opened a combating extremism center with Arab and Muslim allies in Saudi Arabia. At the time, he had sharp words for Iran.

Who objects alongside Trump? 

Internationally, Trump’s view of the deal reflects that of the Gulf Arab monarchies and the right-wing of the powerful Israel lobby in the US. Both the Gulf monarchies and Israel are concerned about Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East and the end of Iran’s international isolation through the lifting of sanctions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly lambasted the nuclear deal and lobbied the Trump administration to pull out. However, current and former Israeli intelligence and military officials have said that while the deal is not perfect, Iran has not violated the agreement and a US withdrawal would backfire.

Netanyahu stands before the UNNetanyahu praised Trump’s hardline comments on Iran at the UN.

Domestically, critics of the Iran deal in Trump’s current administration include  US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, CIA chief Mike Pompeo and senior White House policy advisor Stephen Miller.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, are reportedly in favor of the US staying in the deal, despite advocating a strong line against Iran.

How could Trump break the deal?

Trump faces an October 15 deadline to certify to the US Congress whether Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. If he does not certify compliance, Congress could impose nuclear-related sanctions, effectively killing the 2015 deal. However, it remains unclear how the Republican-controlled Congress would respond.

Read more: New US Russia sanctions bill risks EU anger

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Israel airstrike hits suspected Syrian chemical weapons plant

The Syrian government has said Israel targeted a military facility in Masyaf, killing at least two people. The target is believed to have been a Syrian government agency branch responsible for producing chemical weapons.

Watch video00:30

Israeli aircraft strikes targets in Syria

A series of Israeli airstrikes on Syria overnight Wednesday struck a branch of the government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The targeted agency, located in near the town Masyaf, has been accused by the US of developing chemical weapons for President Bashar Assad.

The attack was initially reported by the Syrian government, although it made no mention of the SSRC.

Read more: UN: Syrian regime used chemical weapons more than two dozen times

“Israeli warplanes at 2:42am today fired a number of missiles from Lebanese air space, targeting one of our military positions near Masyaf, which led to material damage and the deaths of two members of the site,” the Syrian military said in a statement. “Syria’s army warns of the serious repercussions of such acts of aggression on the security and stability of the region.”

Map showing Masyaf, Syria

According to the Observatory, the site, which includes a military training camp, was also used by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters and the Iranian military.

Israel declined to comment on the raids on Thursday. However, former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin posted on Twitter that the site “produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.” While he refused to confirm that Israel carried out the airstrikes, he said that if it did, it would show “Israel intends to enforce its readiness despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them.”

3.which will have a significant role in the next round of conflict

4. The factory that was targeted in Masyaf produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.

The strike took place on the tenth anniversary of Israel’s destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor and just a day after a United Nations investigation panel reported that Syrian government forces had carried out at least 27 chemical attacks since the civil war broke out in 2011.

Assad maintains that his forces have never carried out chemical attacks and said it had surrendered its chemical weapons program in 2013.

Israeli attacks on Syria

An Israeli military spokesperson refused to comment on Thursday morning’s attack, saying the army does not comment on operational matters.

However, officials have admitted to carrying out airstrikes over Syria in the past, namely targeting weapons shipments bound for Lebanon’s Shiite military group, Hezbollah.

Read more: Netanyahu turns to Putin for help containing Shiite influence

Last month, in an interview with Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, former air force chief Amir Eshel said Israel had attacked at least 100 Syrian and Hezbollah arms convoys since 2012.

Yaakov Amidror, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council, told Israel’s Army Radio Thursday that its airstrikes were only intended to weaken Iranian and Shiite military groups operating in Syria.

“We do not interfere in the question of who will rule in Damascus; we interfere with the question of how strong Iran and Hezbollah will be in the region,” said Amidror.

dm/ng (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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Israel strikes Hamas militants over rocket fire

The Israeli military has targeted “two Hamas posts” in the Gaza Strip after a rocket landed in Israeli territory. At least three people were hospitalized by the airstrikes, including one in critical condition.

Israeli F-16 participating in war games with Greece (EPA/ABIR SULTAN)

Israeli warplanes early Wednesday launched airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket attack by militants in the coastal enclave.

“A short while ago, a projectile hit an open region in the Ashkelon region. No injuries have been reported,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a tweet. “In response, IAF aircraft targeted two Hamas posts in the northern Gaza Strip.”

Public health authorities in Gaza City said three people were taken to a hospital due to injuries sustained during the airstrike. At least one of the injured was in critical condition, a medical official added.

Read more: What it means to be a soldier in Israel

Israeli security sources said the airstrikes targeted sites used by Hamas’ military wing Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades in retaliation for firing a rocket into Israeli territory. The sources added that the rocket attack did not result in Israeli casualties.

Hard-line Islamist groups opposed to Hamas’ rule frequently launch rockets into Israeli territory. The groups tend to accuse Hamas of failing to resist the occupation. However, Israel generally holds Hamas responsible for the attacks, even if they are not the culprits.

Gaza under Hamas rule

In 2006, Hamas won nearly 45 percent of the vote during parliamentary elections, effectively placing it in a position to lead the government.

However, fighting between Hamas and rival faction Fatah, alongside Israeli attacks on the Palestinian government, led to open conflict and the Islamist movement taking control of the Gaza Strip.

Read more: When Israelis started to talk about the occupation

Since assuming power, Hamas has fought three wars with Israel. The most recent conflict in 2014 left at least 2,000 Palestinians dead, including more than 500 children, along with 73 Israelis, most soldiers.

Attempts to foster progress on a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remain elusive, in part due to reluctance from the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Fatah’s failure to jointly administer the occupied Palestinian Territories with Hamas.

Watch video02:28

Middle East: Hurdles on the way to peace

ls/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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Israel plans to close broadcaster Al-Jazeera’s offices

Israel has announced plans to close the local offices of Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based international news network. Israeli officials have long accused the broadcaster of bias against the Jewish state.

Al-Dschasira Katar (picture alliance/dpa/T.Brakemeier)

Israel’s communications minister announced on Sunday that he wanted to shut down the operations of Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera in the country.

BREAKING: Israel to shut Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem and revoke credentials of its journalists. More soon on http://Aljazeera.com pic.twitter.com/0AxSMbtIWE

Ayoob Kara said he wanted the press cards of employees of the network revoked and to have their Jerusalem office closed, adding that he had asked cable providers to block Al-Jazeera’s transmissions. He said that cable broadcasters had agreed to his proposal to take the station’s Arabic and English channels off the air. Closure of the station’s office would require further legislation, he added.

Kara claimed that the station was used by militant groups to “incite” violence, accusing the network of “supporting terrorism” and saying that it was “delusional” that Arab states in the Middle East had banned Al-Jazeera for that reason but Israel had not.

“Lately, almost all countries in our region determined that Al-Jazeera supports terrorism, supports religious radicalization,” Kara said. “And when we see that all these countries have determined as fact that Al-Jazeera is a tool of the Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and we are the only one who have not determined that, then something delusional is happening here,” he said.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia have closed Al-Jazeera’s local offices, while the channel and its affiliate sites have been blocked in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.

The latter four Arab states have included shutting down Al-Jazeera in a list of demands made to Qatar, which they accuse of supporting extremists.

Netanyahu resolute to ban Al-Jazeera

There was no timetable given for the implementation of the measures.

Watch video02:02

How will Qatar respond to list of demands?

Israeli officials have long accused Al-Jazeera of showing bias against the Jewish state. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has likened its coverage to “Nazi Germany-style” propaganda, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently accused the Arab satellite news broadcaster of “incitement” to violence.

“The Al-Jazeera channel continues to incite violence around the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post on July 27, referring to the religious site in Jerusalem that is holy to both Muslims and Jews. The site saw violent clashes in recent weeks.

Netanyahu has, however, frequently criticized news media in general, accusing various outlets of seeking to undermine his government.

ss/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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‘Islamic State’ claims Israel stabbing attack, but so does Hamas

For the first time the Islamic State has claimed direct responsibility for an attack in Israel. A border guard who was responding to a shooting attack when she was stabbed multiple times has been killed.

Israeli policewoman lies dead after a stabbing attack (Picture-Alliance/dpa/AP/M. Illean)

On Saturday, the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility on Saturday for the fatal stabbing of an Israeli policewoman outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

In an online statement, IS claimed that fighters had targeted a “gathering of Jews” and warned that “this attack will not be the last.”

Police said two people shot at a group of officers, who returned fire. Meanwhile, at another location, one person stabbed a border policewoman before being shot.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Hadas Malka, 23, was responding to the initial shooting when she was assaulted with a knife. Malka wrestled with the man for several seconds as he stabbed her multiple times before other officers saw what was happening and opened fire, killing him, Samri said. Malka later died of her wounds in hospital.

The three attackers were shot dead.

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Israel has pushed ahead with the construction plans for some 3,000 homes across the occupied West Bank, an NGO claimed. In February, US President Trump urged Israeli PM Netanyahu to temporarily hold back on settlements. (08.06.2017)

IS ‘revenge’ attack?

Israel has been hit by several IS-inspired attacks in the past, and authorities have arrested people with suspected links to the group, but this is the first time IS has directly claimed an attack on Israeli soil.

IS claimed that the attack was “revenge for the religion of Allah and the sanctities of the violated Muslims.”

“Let the Jews watch for the demise of their state at the hands of the soldiers of the Caliphate,” the statement said.

But Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza strip, rejected the claim, saying the attackers had come from among its ranks and those of a leftist liberation movement.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abou Zouhri said the IS’s claim was an attempt to “muddy the waters,” adding that the attack was carried out by “two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a third from Hamas.”

The killing was “a natural response to the crimes of the occupier,” he said, echoing the language used by Hamas after other recent attacks in Israel.

A spokesman for Israel’s internal security agency told AFP it was “impossible to corroborate (the IS claim) at this point.”

The Israeli army refuted claims by both IS and Hamas saying that its preliminary intelligence evaluation “found no evidence of them belonging to any group, rather they appear to have been a typical popular terror squad.”

Ramadan attack

The attack happened as Muslims marked the end of the third Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, during which tens of thousands of Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank attended prayers at the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site.

It was the latest in a wave of attacks on civilians and soldiers that erupted in 2015.

In that time Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. Israel has killed 250 Palestinians during the same period, mostly identified as attackers.

shs, aw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Israel approves largest West Bank settlement construction in 25 years

Israel approves largest West Bank settlement construction in 25 years
Israel has greenlighted plans for over 8,000 new homes in the West Bank, with over a third for “immediate” construction, the defense minister revealed on Sunday, making it the largest expansion of Jewish settlements in the area in 25 years.

According to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 3,651 settlements were approved last week, Haaretz reports. The minister noted that “What we’ve approved on June 6 and 7 is the maximum that can be approved.”

Plans for 8,345 new housing units have been approved by the Israeli authorities so far this year, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency writes, citing Liebermann. Out of these, 3,066 have been given final approval and will soon be built.

“The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992,” Lieberman said, as cited by local media and news agencies.

The defense minister also praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for its aggressive stance on expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“There was no better government in terms of settlement construction,” he said, according to Haaretz.

For some, however, the plans appear to fall short of expectations.

“I respect the defense minister very much but unfortunately the numbers he mentioned aren’t correct,” Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, said, according to the newspaper. According to Dagan, most of the approved units “are counted five or six times,” essentially putting the “real number” under 2,000 housing units.

However, according to Lieberman, pushing for more would “stretch the rope beyond its limit, and thus put the entire settlement enterprise at risk.”

Nearly 400,000 Jewish settlers are estimated to be living in the West Bank along with 2.8 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, an area claimed by Palestinians.

The construction of settlements in the region is considered illegal under international law. The international community has long voiced concerns over the controversial constructions while condemning the deteriorating security situation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The government of Israel stopped building official settlements in 1992, according to Israeli monitoring group Peace Now. That, however, did not stop the construction of unauthorized settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli military test-fires undisclosed type of missile (VIDEO)

Israeli military test-fires undisclosed type of missile (VIDEO)
Israel has conducted a test-launch of a rocket propulsion system of an undisclosed missile type, according to the Israeli Air Force.

The launch took place in the early hours of Monday at a military base in central Israel, the military said on Twitter.

The Air Force didn’t specify what system was tested, only saying that the scheduled launch was “carried out as planned.”

The rocket’s flight was seen by a number of residents, who posted videos of the launch on social media.

It is the first missile firing in the country since January, when the military successfully tested its Magic Wand missile interception system, which it said was close to going into service.

It is the first missile firing in the country since January, when the military successfully tested its Magic Wand missile interception system, which it said was close to going into service.

Israel currently uses three different systems of air defense. The Iron Dome system intercepts short-range rockets, the Arrow system deals with ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the David’s Sling system shoots down tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles.

According to Western media reports, Israel is also in possession of its own Jericho 3 surface-to-surface intercontinental ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The Jericho 3 propulsion system reportedly had a range of 4,000 kilometers in 2013, which has since been increased to over 10,000 kilometers.