RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump could change the direction of U.S. relations in the Middle East with a single statement today. This afternoon, the president reveals his decision on whether he will make good on his 2016 campaign promise to undo the Iran nuclear deal.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making, and let me tell you - this deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.
MARTIN: America's allies in Europe and elsewhere have been trying to caution the president to keep the pact in place. Larry Kaplow is NPR's Middle East editor. He's been following this closely, and he joins us in the studio now. Hey, Larry.
LARRY KAPLOW, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: All right. So if the president goes ahead, as we expect him to today, and announce that the U.S. is going to reimpose sanctions on Iran, what's that going to look like?
KAPLOW: Well, we don't know what that will set in motion. It's, in essence, an act of brinksmanship to see what other countries will do. A European diplomat told NPR and some other reporters that they expect the president to withdraw from the deal, and that will have consequences that we don't totally understand. Let's just step back - remind people what the deal is.
KAPLOW: The U.S. - five other countries - agreed to lift some economic sanctions on Iran. In return, Iran allowed inspectors to go into its nuclear facilities. They destroyed a whole bunch of their nuclear equipment. And supporters say this will keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. Opponents, including the president, say, well, it doesn't deal with other things Iran is doing, like support for Hezbollah, Hamas testing ballistic missiles.
MARTIN: So we know that Donald Trump has hated this deal for a really long time, so why is this the moment that he's deciding to make a change?
KAPLOW: Under the deal, the U.S. committed to lift sanctions that the U.S. had already put in force in the past. Those sanctions come up for renewal every several months. And he has continued to lift these sanctions to provide this economic relief partly because his own administration was split on what to do and partly because there were allies like Europe urging him to continue to stay in it. But he kept vowing and threatening that he would get out.
MARTIN: What does this mean for Iranians?
KAPLOW: Well, right now, the Iranians overnight were saying they could handle this. They are saying, well, there could be a tough period for - for a couple of months. But they'll continue, and they'll try to establish - continue good relations with Europe and other parts of the world.
MARTIN: Does that mean they'd stay in the deal?
KAPLOW: It sounds like they're offering that maybe as a way to say, well, Iran's playing ball. It's the U.S. that's acting like the rogue partner in this case. In another scenario, they could ultimately say, well, if the U.S. has gotten out, then Iran's going to get out and kick out the inspectors and ramp up its nuclear program again.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Larry, there's a thing I want to figure out here. Of course, Iran is a huge oil producer. The price of oil has been creeping up just with the anticipation that sanctions might be reimposed. If sanctions are reimposed - if oil sales are in some way blocked, doesn't that mean that Saudi Arabia and also, by the way, Russia - huge oil producers - would get to sell a lot more oil to the world?
KAPLOW: Right. Oil is a commodity. There aren't - you can substitute it from one place when another place is taken out of it. You raise a good point. These sanctions, which are coming up for renewal or reimposition on Saturday, are about their sales of oil and how companies - countries can buy oil from them. But the U.S. - the devil's in the details. How does the U.S. enforce this? It could reimpose sanctions but also give some thresholds that lets countries continue to buy oil from Iran.
INSKEEP: Buy some oil from Iran. That could happen.
MARTIN: All right. We'll have to stay tuned. NPR's Middle East editor Larry Kaplow, thanks so much.
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