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Trump to preserve Iran nuclear deal

11 Jan 2017, 7.13 pm GMT

Trump to preserve Iran nuclear deal

Washington, 11 January (Argus) — US president-elect Donald Trump will not immediately overturn the deal that a year ago lifted nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, US secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said today.

Promising to tear up the Iran nuclear deal — a signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama's diplomacy — was a campaign staple by Trump. But the president-elect appears to have changed his view, in line with a similar evolution among key congressional opponents of the nuclear deal.

Tillerson, who retired as chief executive of ExxonMobil after being nominated for secretary of state, said the new administration will carefully review the nuclear deal and affiliated agreements to determine if the US indeed has an effective ability to verify Iran's compliance.

The US under Trump may seek to strengthen some provisions of the agreement, for example by demanding that Iran give up its nuclear weapon ambitions altogether, Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing today to review his nomination as secretary of state.

"There are additional areas, for example, the current agreement does not deny Iran the ability to purchase nuclear weapons," he said.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement that went into effect on 16 January 2016 eliminated large parts of Iran's nuclear program and froze any nuclear projects that could potentially be used for military purposes for 15 years. The deal allowed Iran to maintain a civilian program. Iran has denied the existence of a nuclear weapons program.

Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), who presided over the nomination hearing, said last week that overturning the deal would be counterproductive. "We have lots of challenges to deal with around the world," Corker said. "In spite of all the flaws in the agreement, nothing bad is going to happen relative to nuclear development in Iran over the next few years."

Iran since the lifting of sanctions has boosted production by about 900,000 b/d, to 3.72mn b/d in December. Opec's third-largest producer says it has recaptured its European export markets lost when the US and EU imposed restrictions on its crude sales. Opec exempted Iran from the output cut agreement to account for the effects of nuclear-related sanctions. The agreement allows Iran to hold production at 3.797mn b/d, which allows for an increase from current levels.

Congress late in 2016 enacted a law extending the core sanctions preventing any business dealings by US companies in Iran by another decade, through 2026. Iran complained that the extension violated the terms of the nuclear deal. But a joint commission of the US, Iran and other signatories of the nuclear deal — the EU, Russia and China — in a statement today "recognized the US' assurance that extension of the Iran Sanctions Act does not affect in any way the sanctions lifting Iran receives under the deal ."

The US under president-elect Trump will confront Iran over its actions against the US interests in the Middle East, Tillerson said.

But another change in policy he announced today would be in line with Iran's policy in the region. The US under Trump will no longer push for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to leave office, focusing instead on combating terrorist group Isis, Tillerson said.

"We have had two competing priorities, [displacing] Assad and [combating] Isis, and carrying out both is difficult," Tillerson said. The US will not seek to remove Assad without a clear understanding of what governing structure will replace his regime, according to Tillerson. The US experience in Iraq, Libya and Syria in the past decade and a half shows that "any decision to effect a change of leadership should not be taken lightly," he said.

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