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The U.S. imposes major sanctions on Iran on Monday as part of President Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal. Officials say they want Iran to abandon what they call its destructive behavior. But as NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, supporters of the deal contend the administration is endangering an agreement that prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: President Trump has made his feelings on the Iran deal pretty clear.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The fact is this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.
BRUMFIEL: Someone who did help make the deal is Corey Hinderstein. She worked on it during the Obama administration. And she says it was designed to address a very specific problem. Iran was getting really close to building a nuclear weapon.
COREY HINDERSTEIN: They would've been able to produce enough material, the highly enriched uranium, for a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks.
BRUMFIEL: So in exchange for surrendering enriched uranium, shelving equipment and opening up to inspections, the deal lifted sanctions. The U.S. wasn't alone. Europe, Russia and China were all part of the deal.
HINDERSTEIN: It wasn't just the United States. It was a truly international effort. I believe that this deal was the best deal we could've made at the time.
BRUMFIEL: Which is not to say it was perfect.
OLLI HEINONEN: I think it had flaws, which were known from the very beginning.
BRUMFIEL: Olli Heinonen is a former weapons inspector now at the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. One of his problems with the deal - it doesn't cover Iran's efforts to build powerful missiles that could act as vehicles for delivering nuclear weapons.
HEINONEN: It's also important to have the delivery vehicle as a part of your verification system. Now it's entirely out.
BRUMFIEL: The Trump administration goes further still. It has a dozen issues it wants resolved. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated them on Friday. They include things like those missiles but also support for groups opposed to U.S. interests in the region, like Hezbollah. Until all these issues are dealt with, the sanctions are back on, choking off Iran's oil revenues. Hinderstein, who's now at the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative, says this will hit the country hard.
HINDERSTEIN: It will put a vice on Iran's ability to conduct economic activities internationally.
BRUMFIEL: Pompeo calls it maximum pressure. Iran stayed in the deal because it was expecting economic benefits. So far, it has continued to allow nuclear inspections, but Hinderstein says the whole thing could fall apart in coming months. The Trump administration is counting on its pressure policy to bring Iran back to the table, but Hinderstein says that with the international community divided...
HINDERSTEIN: I see no hope of a better deal on the horizon.
BRUMFIEL: Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News, Washington.
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