WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has approved a strategy to crack down on Iran for its ballistic missile program and support for militant groups throughout the Middle East, according to a senior administration official, although he has yet to formally sign off on "decertifying" the nuclear accord negotiated by the Obama administration.
Trump has been expected to withdraw certification of the deal since he declared at the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago that the agreement was "embarrassing to the United States," and that he had made up his mind what to do about it.
But the president has not yet signed a decision memo on the deal itself, the official said.
Even if the president takes that step, it would fall short of scrapping the accord because the White House would kick the deal to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran.
Trump is expected to announce his Iran strategy in a speech as early as next week. Administration officials emphasized that the nuclear deal is one part of a multidimensional approach to pressure Iran on many fronts, including its missile program, its support for groups like Hezbollah and its intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Assad government.
The nuclear deal has assumed outsize importance in the relationship with Iran for a number of reasons, not least Trump's repeated ridiculing of it during the 2016 presidential election and the fact that it is one of the landmark foreign policy achievements of his predecessor President Barack Obama.
If Trump withdraws certification, it would thrust Congress into a volatile debate over whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions, which would probably explode the deal, or to impose sanctions on other issues, like missiles, which could keep the deal intact.