Lead US negotiator says Iran deal’s ‘weak status’ allows US to walk away

Platts–The US is prepared to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal if it cannot reach a side agreement with Europe to toughen the terms, the lead US negotiator in the talks said Wednesday in an interview on NPR.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned earlier Wednesday that his country would leave the deal if the US tries to renegotiate the terms.

Brian Hook, the US State Department’s director for policy planning, said the US and European allies can strike a supplemental agreement without violating the original nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“This JCPOA is not a treaty,” Hook told NPR. “It’s not an executive agreement, it has no signatures, it has no legal status. It is a political commitment by an administration that’s no longer in office.”

Up to 1 million b/d of Iranian exports are at stake in US President Donald Trump’s May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue waiving sanctions. Iran has doubled its crude exports to about 2.2 million-2.3 million b/d since the deal took effect in January 2016.

Hook said the JCPOA has “this weak status” because of a number of deficiencies that prevented it from receiving enough votes in the US Senate “to make it something permanent and enduring.”

“So what we are trying to do is work with the Congress and work with the European allies to address the deficiencies,” Hook said.

Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron signaled Tuesday that they may have found common ground that could preserve the Iran nuclear deal, although Trump made no promises and could still re-impose US oil sanctions next month.

Macron said during a joint press conference that he and Trump had discussed “four pillars” of a broader agreement, which would include the existing JCPOA, plus a longer ban on Iran’s nuclear development, limits on its ballistic missile testing and addressing its efforts to destabilize the region.

“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th. Although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea,” Trump said, turning to Macron. “But we’ll see … whether or not it will be possible to do a new deal with solid foundations.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Washington on Friday, also seeking to persuade Trump to preserve the JCPOA.