Trump’s diplomatic dance on Iran: What’s his next step?

Like DACA, like … the Iran nuclear deal?

As he considers what to do about the 2015 international agreement with Iran that he disdains, President Trump may be about to lob the ball into the international community’s court.

Rather than pulling the United States out of the deal as he has long threatened, Mr. Trump may instead agree to stick with it at least for the coming months – and challenge the US partners in the seven-nation agreement to address what he sees as its grave shortcomings.

Recommended: How much do you know about Iran? Take our quiz to find out.

If he indeed takes this approach – as comments from the president’s chief foreign policy advisers and some foreign leaders who met with the president this week suggest – it would be reminiscent of Trump’s decision last month to punt to Congress the fate of the 800,000 young undocumented immigrants covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

“Trump could very well do with the Iran deal what he’s doing with DACA,” says Lawrence Korb, a defense and national security analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

“He could keep blasting away at the deal itself without pulling out of it as a way to increase the pressure for changes to it,” he adds. “There are things he can do to try to have it both ways.”

If all this sounds maddeningly hypothetical, it’s because the president has said he has made up his mind, but won’t say how. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking to reporters, also has pointedly refused to say what Trump has decided.

After condemning the Iran nuclear accord as an “embarrassment” to the US in his United Nations speech Tuesday and continuing to blast it as one of the worst international deals the US has ever struck, Trump could appear to be preparing to pull out of the agreement.

And indeed that could still happen. Under US law the president must “certify” to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the agreement. The next certification deadline is October 15.

RHETORIC VERSUS ACTION

Trump has given ample indications over recent weeks that he could decide to walk away from the deal. He could also opt to neither certify nor de-certify, but essentially turn it over to Congress – to try to re-impose US sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of the deal.

But some senior administration officials and regional experts close to the White House are suggesting that the president’s tough rhetoric may…

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