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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Rare 1,500-year-old mosaic discovered in Jerusalem

A sixth-century mosaic floor containing a Greek inscription has been uncovered in Jerusalem’s Old City. Dubbed an “archaeological miracle,” the rare find sheds light on Jerusalem’s largest Christian church at the time.

Byzantine mosaic and inscription found in Jerusalem (Getty Images/AFP/A. Gharabli)

A mosaic floor bearing the names of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and senior Orthodox priest Constantine has been found near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday.

An inscription, written in Greek and dating to AD 550/551, was on the 1.14-meter (3 feet 7 inches) by 80-centimeter mosaic – making it an extraordinary find.

“Direct text and letters from people back then are relatively rare,” David Gellman, director of the excavation in Jerusalem’s Old City, told AFP news agency.

“The fact that the inscription survived is an archaeological miracle,” Gellman said in a statement.

Breakthrough discovery at the last minute

It was by chance that archaeologists came upon the rare find, located a meter below street level. Gellman and his team had been asked to conduct a routine examination before communications cables were to be laid in the area.

“We were very close to closing the excavation when I noticed that a few of the mosaic stones, which were otherwise plain white, were at a different angle and seemed to be a little darker,” Gellman recalled. “I cleaned up that small corner… and found that it was the bottom left corner of the inscription itself.”

Read more: Germany’s sunken ‘Atlantis’ reappears as tourist attraction

Read more: ‘Little Pompeii’ discovered in southern France

The inscription reads, “The most pious Roman emperor Flavius Justinian and the most God-loving priest and abbot, Constantine, erected the building in which this (this mosaic) sat during the 14th indiction.”

Used for taxation purposes, indiction was an ancient method of counting years, which allowed the archaeologists to date the inscription to the mid-sixth century.

Justinian, an important ruler during the Byzantine era in the Roman Empire, established the Nea Church in Jerusalem in AD 543, in which the mosaic was found and where Constantine was an abbot. It was one of the largest Christian churches in the eastern Roman Empire and also the largest in Jerusalem at the time.

Experts hope the discovery will contribute to their understanding of Justinian’s building schemes.

The area where the mosaic was uncovered, near the Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, is now the main entryway to the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel annexed that territory in a move that has since not been recognized by the international community.

kbm/eg (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

 

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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.

Egypt delays UN motion on Israel as Trump intervenes

This file photo taken on November 15, 2016 shows a placard reading "Trump Make Israel Great Again" in Tel Aviv.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionMr Trump’s strong support for Israel is reciprocated, as this placard in Tel Aviv showed in November

Egypt has delayed a UN vote on a text condemning Israeli settlements in occupied territory after Israel asked Donald Trump to intervene.

Israel contacted the US president-elect’s transition team after learning that the Obama administration might abstain in a Security Council vote.

The move would have allowed the motion to pass, a US official told the BBC.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi discussed the issue in a phone call with Mr Trump, Mr Sisi’s office said.

In a statement, it said the two men had agreed on “the importance of giving a chance for the new American administration to deal in a comprehensive way with the different aspects of the Palestinian issue”.

The resolution submitted by Egypt called for Israel to stop settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it said breached international law.

It was to have been put to a vote on Thursday, but Egypt withdrew it hours before the meeting was due to start.

Israel’s ambassador the US Ron Dermer expressed gratitude to Mr Trump, tweeting “Israel deeply appreciates the clear and unequivocal call of President-elect @realDonaldTrump to veto anti-Israel resolution at the UN.”

Construction at Givat Zeev settlementImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Obama administration has often rebuked Israel over settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem

The US, which holds the power of veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, has traditionally sheltered Israel from condemnatory resolutions by voting them down.

The Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement building and there had been speculation that in its final month it might allow a resolution against settlements to pass at the UN.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Trump, who takes over as president on 20 January, had urged the Security Council to defeat the motion.

“Peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” he said in a statement.

“This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis.”

This file photo taken on March 21, 2016 shows US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference in Washington, DC,Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionBoth Israeli officials and the Egyptian president spoke with Mr Trump, it emerged

After the postponement of the vote, an Israeli official told Reuters news agency that it had warned the Obama administration in advance that it would appeal to the president-elect if the US abstained, and confirmed that it had directly asked Mr Trump to intervene.

However, four other members of the Security Council warned that if Egypt did not press ahead with its resolution, other member states would do so.

New Zealand, Venezuela, Malaysia, and Senegal said they reserved the right to move ahead with the vote.

The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians, who see them as an obstacle to peace.

About 500,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Israeli social media reacts to the pope’s visit to Auschwitz

As Pope Francis meets with Holocaust survivors in Auschwitz, users took to social media to share their thoughts on the historic visit. More than 1.1 million people were killed in the former Nazi concentration camp.

Polen Weltjugendtag 2016 Papst Franziskus besucht Auschwitz

As the pope walked through the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work sets you free”) gate at the entrance to Auschwitz, pictures coming from the former concentration camp were too strong for social media users to ignore.

Within an hour of his visit , #Auschwitz began trending as a topic on Twitter with many users sharing personal thoughts.

Multiple tweets and posts praised the pontiff – the third consecutive to make the pilgrimage to the place. They called his visit “emotional” and commented on the image of him walking through the gate as “strong.”

Watch video00:53

Pope Francis visits Auschwitz concentration camp

Out of the three successive popes to visit Auschwitz, Pope Francis is the first one who has no personal connection to it: John Paul II hailed from Poland, which was under German occupation at the time the camp was used by the Nazis, while Benedict XVI was German.

The visit has also inevitably touched the hearts of many Israelis, who saw it as a gesture of kindness and respect for the Jewish people and the victims of the Holocaust in particular.

“An extremely powerful image of the pope visiting Auschwitz,” one Israeli journalist tweeted. Others shared the photo of the pontiff passing under the gate, applauding Pope Francis for being humble and modest, “walking on his own, silently, without an orchestra or a chorus.”

The pope has met with several survivors of the Auschwitz camp, an act largely hailed by Israeli media as a “historic event.” One by one, the pontiff stopped to shake the survivors’ hands, immediately bending over to kiss them on both cheeks.

“Pope Francis is visiting Auschwitz concentration camp, where he will hold a prayer in the gas chambers area and meet with Holocaust survivors,” Israeli channel 10, one of the most popular in the country, tweeted.

However, not everyone was impressed by the visit and some Israeli Twitter users have even called the pope “weak” and “fawning.”

“This has to be the most obsequious pope Christianity has known so far,” an Israeli user tweeted in Hebrew, referring to the pontiff’s pledge to Poland to open its doors to migrants.

Yet for the survivors themselves it has been a “great honor” to meet the pope, 100-year-old Alojzy Fros told the Associated Press. “This is a huge thing for me.”

Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich prayed in the pope’s presence, reading Psalm 130 in Hebrew, which starts: “From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord.”

“The pope presents in pictures how one can visit the Polish soil – soaked with Jewish blood – alone, bowed headed and silently. We should learn from him and teach ourselves,” this user said, summing up the visit.

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On Eve of Yom Kippur, Ann Coulter Still Unrepentant for ‘F—ing Jews’ Tweet (INTERVIEW)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2015 11:59 AM 38 COMMENTS

Ann Coulter, the controversial conservative pundit who aroused the ire of Jews last week when she tweeted comments perceived as antisemitic. Photo: Twitter.

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, conservative political firebrand Ann Coulter expressed only a smidgen of regret for her now infamous Twitter tirade, in which she accused candidates at last week’s Republican presidential debate of pandering to Jews.

Among a string of angry messages lambasting the contenders’ focus on consensus issues, the pundit tweeted, “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?”

Offered the chance to reconsider her choice of words in an interview with The Algemeiner on Monday, her first with a Jewish publication since making the comments, Coulter yielded only that, “I would’ve used the ‘f—ing’ in a different part of the sentence.” And even that would only be in order to prevent her critics from “chopping up” her words and putting together a “bomb.”

Throughout the course of the interview, Coulter claimed she has been inundated with “fan mail from my Jewish fans.” She asserted that she is “a friend of Israel” and stands “against the enemies of the Jews.” She also said that while Jews “are usually so good with real estate,” Israel would do better if it relocated to the southern U.S. border. She called Donald Trump “the most Jewish” Republican candidate — although she has yet to hear any criticism from Trump’s Jewish daughter, Ivanka — and expressed interest in finding herself a Jewish doctor with whom to settle down.

But she was repeatedly dismissive of the maelstrom of antisemitism that her comments have ignited on social media networks, and rejected criticism from Jewish groups across the political spectrum that her comments played into antisemitic stereotypes about Jews having undue influence on American policy to the detriment of U.S. interests.

She pooh-poohed attacks from liberals, whom she called, “utter frauds and hypocrites” that “are constantly sucking up to antisemites,” but she also refused to take criticism from Jewish groups that might usually be aligned with her politically.

The hawkish Zionist Organization of America blasted Coulter’s “appalling, anti-Jewish remarks which evoked the classic, antisemitic trope about Jewish manipulation of America for the purposes of supporting Israel at America’s expense,” and the Orthodox National Council of Young Israel condemned her “ill-advised decision to spew hatred by denigrating the state of Israel and the Jewish community.” Commentary Magazine editor and conservative commentator John Podhoretz tweeted simply, “Shame on you.”

But Coulter dismissed the condemnations from “groups I agree with” as coming from people who “were deceived” and are “unfamiliar with my work,” as well as others who “may just be naive.”

Confronted by The Algemeiner with the prevailing wisdom that her tweet played into the most grotesque Jewish stereotypes, Coulter deflected, saying, “I’m throwing their Israel-pandering right in with their Reagan-pandering and their abortion-pandering.” She also noted, “In fact, right after sending that tweet, I tweeted out: ‘or maybe it’s the evangelicals.’”

Asked if she would repudiate the antisemitic hordes that have gathered in her defense under the #IStandWithAnn social-media banner, she claimed, “I haven’t seen any of those tweets. I hear about them but… I don’t even want to acknowledge their existence. It gives them too much credibility.”

“But for one thing,” she added, “If, or to the extent that, they are antisemites, well, they are going to become familiar with my work, and they’re going to see I’m not.”

Despite the strong implication to the contrary of her initial tweet, Coulter insisted that support for Israel in the U.S. is by no means a Jewish issue, but “truly an American cause” and that she supports U.S. aid to Israel because “they are our only friend there.”

“I must tell you,” she said, “Jews are usually so good with real estate. You guys are in a bad neighborhood over there. You are surrounded by animals and lunatics.”

“Israel knows how to defend itself,” she added. “They have a nice fence.”

Coulter also took the time, as a devout Presbyterian, to clarify the Christian religious imperative to support Israel.

“It would be great if I could clarify this in a Jewish magazine,” she said, “this business about the reason Christians support Israel is because we want the second coming. No, no, no, not true. That’s equivalent to theProtocols of the Elders of Zion.”

According to Coulter, the reason for Christian support for Israel, “as a matter of doctrine,” is because of the belief in the biblical mantra “that god gave Israel to the Jews.”

Perhaps walking back her 2007 radio show comments saying that Christians “just want Jews to be perfected” by converting to Christianity, she added, “I mean the existence of the Jews is proof of God in that sense.

Asked if she had any message for the Jewish community in honor of Yom Kippur, which begins tonight, the unrepentant Coulter again flaunted the opportunity to express regret for her almost universally derided use of anti-Jewish language.

“Happy new year, and best wishes for an easy fast!” she said.

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Israel hits Gaza with airstrikes, closes crossings after more rockets fired

Published time: June 07, 2015 05:36

Edited time: June 07, 2015 17:11

An Israeli air force F-15 fighter jet. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

An Israeli air force F-15 fighter jet. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

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Israeli jets struck several sites in northern Gaza on Sunday, as Israel blamed Hamas for launching a missile into Ashkelon and ordered all Gazan border crossings to be closed. The Palestinians say a pro-Islamic State group is trying to provoke a war.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the Air Force has hit a number of “terror infrastructure sites” in the northern Gaza Strip, the Jerusalem Post reports. This was in direct response to a rocket fired on Saturday from Gaza, which exploded outside of Israel’s southern Ashkelon region in an open space. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

It is the second time in days that Gaza has been bombed after obscure militants launched unguided missiles into Israel, with a similar scenario unfolding Thursday night. In both cases, the Omar Brigades, a radical Salafist group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Hamas, which is the dominant Palestinian group in Gaza, has claimed that the Salafists are trying to spark another major conflict in the region to seize power. Hamas has reportedly hunted down and killed a leader of the rival group, while a Twitter account thought to be run by the Omar Brigades said Sunday that the latest strike was “in protest” against the imprisonment of their fellow jihadists in Gaza.

However, Israel has said it will not take into account who exactly is responsible for attacks from a Hamas-controlled territory.

“Even if the shooters last night were jihadist groups rebelling against Hamas by firing at us, we view Hamas as being responsible for everything that occurs in the territory of Gaza,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has said.

Ya’alon on Sunday issued an order to close the only two operating border crossings between Israel and Gaza. The crossings – Kerem Shalom and Erez – will be opened only for humanitarian purposes until the security situation changes, the order said.

The other three crossings into Gaza are still not operational.

READ MORE: Orange ready to boycott Israel ‘tomorrow’ – CEO

The latest attack near Ashkelon comes a day after the IDF deployed at least two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries in southern Israel.

On Sunday, the US backed recent Israeli airstrikes, saying Israel has right to defend its people.

“Clearly the US stands with the people of Israel as they defend their people and their nation against these kind of attacks,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a G7 summit in Germany.

On Thursday, several massive explosions rocked the Gaza Strip amid reports of Israeli jets spotted in the area. The strikes took place in the western part of the strip, near the Maqousi Towers residential area.

The last time Israel cut off Gaza completely was in November, as it shut down the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings.

Rights activists say the border closures threaten the population of the already extremely isolated Gaza Strip, which has been in dire need of rebuilding and humanitarian aid since Israel’s deadly seven-week military operation in Gaza last summer, Operation Protective Edge, which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians.

READ MORE: Israel a criminal offender at large, UN listing or not [GRAPHIC IMAGES]

The latest spike of violence in the region follows a relatively calm. Last summer’s brutal crackdown by the Israelis came after regular missile attacks on Israeli territory.