Here’s where things stand heading into Day 90 of the Trump administration:
The Trump administration is not shy about taking on global adversaries with tough rhetoric.
This week, it turned some of its attention toward Iran.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slammed Iran on Wednesday as a state sponsor of terrorism responsible for “alarming, ongoing provocations” across the Middle East. (Think: threats against Israel, support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and harassment of U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.) In formal remarks to reporters, Tillerson suggested the United States was considering whether to punish the Islamic republic by reimposing sanctions that were lifted under the 2015 nuclear agreement.
As you might remember, President Trump is no fan of that nuclear agreement. On the 2016 campaign trail, he repeatedly criticized it as “the worst deal ever negotiated.” But it’s unclear whether his administration is prepared to violate its terms by reimposing sanctions. That could risk retaliation from Iran and lead it to resume development of its nuclear program.
Tillerson wasn’t the only Trump administration official targeting Iran for criticism on Wednesday.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis slammed Iran as a destabilizing influence, particularly in Yemen, during a visit to Saudi Arabia. “Everywhere you look, if there’s trouble in the region, you find Iran,” Mattis told reporters.
This week, the Trump administration said it will undertake a comprehensive, 90-day review to judge whether lifting sanctions on Iran serves U.S. interests. So expect to hear more about this topic in the coming months.
In the meantime, amid all the criticism, here’s a development worth noting: Iran has met all of its commitments under the nuclear deal so far, the administration officially told Congress this week.
EXXON ASKS TO RESUME PROJECT WITH RUSSIAN PARTNER
Speaking of Tillerson, here’s a situation that could get interesting.
ExxonMobil, where Tillerson served as chairman and chief executive before joining the Trump administration, is seeking permission from the U.S. government to resume oil drilling around the Black Sea in partnership with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company.
The project was blocked in 2014 when the United States imposed sanctions on Russia to punish it for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. ExxonMobil has estimated the sanctions caused it to lose up to $1 billion before taxes from ventures with Rosneft, according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the company’s request.
The news comes against the backdrop of investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia and Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING AIRCRAFT CARRIER, PART TWO
Yesterday, we wrote about the “nebulous — if not deliberately misleading” comments from Trump administration officials about the location of the USS Carl Vinson.
In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap.
Last week, amid rising tensions with North Korea, U.S. officials suggested an aircraft carrier was headed toward the Korean Peninsula, ready to counter overt aggression from Pyongyang.
It turns out that carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, was thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean at the time.
Government officials let the false narrative spread for a week, with some experts wondering, as our colleagues wrote, whether the Trump administration was “using deceptive means to send a message” to North Korea.
On Wednesday, some of those officials sought to defend the administration’s statements, while others struggled to explain why the government never corrected news reports that falsely stated the location of the carrier.
“What part is misleading? I’m trying to figure that out,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “We were asked a question about what signal it sent. We answered the question on what signal it sent. I’m not the one who commented on timing.”
EPA TO SHRINK STAFF WITH BUYOUTS
Foreshadowing what might soon take place in other parts of the government, the Environmental Protection Agency said this week it will begin to shrink its workforce through buyouts.
EPA acting deputy administrator Mike Flynn said the White House asked agencies to take “immediate actions” to shrink their staffs. Flynn said his goal was to complete the program by the end of the fiscal year.
The move comes in response to Trump’s executive order last month aimed at reorganizing the executive branch and eliminating “unnecessary agencies … components of agencies, and agency programs.”
Follow the author: @eliseviebeck.