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Why Trump hates the Iran deal, explained in 400 words

A bite-size primer to one of the most important decisions of Donald Trump’s presidency.

President Donald Trump speaking at the White House.
President Donald Trump may withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, 2018. It would be one of the most consequential decisions of his presidency.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is on the verge of scuttling the Iran nuclear deal, following through on a campaign promise to end what he calls “the worst deal ever.” If he does, it could hurt some of America’s key allies and possibly put Iran back on the path toward a nuclear weapon.

Recall that the Iran deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, likely stops Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon for about a decade.

On July 14, 2015, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Iran’s nuclear program, giving Iran greater access to the global economy.

In return, Iran agreed to start curbing its nuclear program, limiting it to strictly peaceful applications, and to allow comprehensive inspections of key nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure compliance.

But Trump doesn’t like the deal for three main reasons.

First, he says that Iran is violating the “spirit” of the deal because it continues to work against US interests in the Middle East. For example, Tehran still tests ballistic missiles, supports Bashar al-Assad in Syria and terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and counters its archenemy, Saudi Arabia. However, none of that is prohibited under the Iran deal.

Second, Trump doesn’t like that certain restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program have sunset clauses. The restraints on Iran’s centrifuges disappear after 10 years, and the limits on uranium enrichment go away five years after that. Trump claims that would allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon once the constraints lift.

Finally, Trump says he can make a better deal. Here’s how he partially wants to do it: curb Iran’s missile tests, allow more inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities, and remove the time limits on uranium and centrifuge restrictions. The US is working with Europeans on Trump’s proposed changes, but they have yet to reach an agreement. If they do, the hope is that Iran will go along with the new accord.

It’s still unclear if that will happen. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that the current deal could survive even without the US. However, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said last week that Iran would “most likely” leave the deal if the US withdrew from it.

Trump will announce his decision — one of the biggest of his presidency — at 2 pm on Tuesday.