President Donald Trump appears poised to drive a stake through the heart of the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday, when he announces his verdict on US sanctions relief underpinning the landmark accord.
Officials and diplomats expect the US leader to ignore last-ditch European pleas and move to withdraw the United States from a 2015 agreement, which he insists was "very badly negotiated."
Mr Trump has, unsuccessfully, demanded changes to the Obama-era deal, which saw Iran mothball a suspected nuclear weapons program in return for massive sanctions relief.
Months of intensive talks between the United States and European allies now appear deadlocked, with Berlin, London and Paris refusing to rewrite the agreement.
The president tweeted he would announce his decision at 2pm (7pm GMT), even as British foreign secretary Boris Johnson shuttled around Washington to reach a last-gasp breakthrough.
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One European diplomat echoed the mood around foreign embassies in Washington, saying "there is plainly a difference of opinion," acknowledging Mr Trump seems poised to walk away.
Concretely, the US president will now decide whether to continue to waive sanctions on Iran’s central bank and its oil sector dealings, a key pillar of the agreement.
"It’s pretty obvious to me that unless something changes in the next few days, I believe the president will not waive the sanctions," the European official said.
"I would like to pretend to you today that I feel that there is a chance of the existing (deal) remaining intact," the official said. "I think that that chance may exist but it is very small."
France and Germany have said they will stick with the deal even if the US pulls out. Florence Parly, France’s defence minister, called the deal "a factor of peace and stabilisation in a very eruptive region".
Mr Trump could also decide to stop waivers for a thicket of other sanctions against Iran, effectively ending US participation in the deal and putting European companies at risk of sanction.
Since his days as a presidential candidate, Mr Trump has vowed to scrap the deal, but has until now stopped short, amid fierce debate inside his administration.
He has complained, in particular, that Iran gets sanctions relief up front but could return to controversial activities once restrictions "sunset" in 2025.
His administration has also been angered by Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah in Syria’s civil war and Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen.
With the arrival of John Bolton as National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State the Iran hawks now appear to be in the driver’s seat.
Imposing oil sanctions could be the first step of a "a broad coercive campaign" to "break the regime’s back," according to Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia group.
But European powers are skeptical that Mr Trump’s administration has a backup plan to restrain Iranian ambitions once he has made good on his campaign promise to tear up the deal.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, who was in Washington to lobby Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, told Fox News: "Plan B does not seem to be, to me, particularly well-developed at this stage."
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned the accord’s collapse could spark "an escalation" in the region and stressed that Washington’s European allies think the deal "makes the world a safer place."
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