US Congress Trying to Save Iran Deal From Trump

Bob Corker
Bob Corker

In an effort to safeguard the 2015 nuclear deal, US congressmen are discussing legislation that would give President Donald Trump political cover to extend the deal, said an article published by Politico on Thursday.

Trump allowed the Iran nuclear deal to survive through 2017, but the new year will offer him another chance to blow up the agreement—and critics and supporters alike believe he may take it.

By mid-January, the US president will face new legal deadlines to choose whether to slap US sanctions back on Tehran.

Senior lawmakers and some of Trump's top national security officials are trying to preserve the agreement, which Tehran negotiated with major powers to get sanctions relief in return for temporary curbs on its nuclear work.

But it is not clear whether Republicans and Democrats can agree on even a symbolic measure in time and the deal's backers fear Trump has grown more willing to reject the counsel of his foreign policy team, as he did with his recent decision to recognize Beit-ul-Moqaddas as Israel's capital.

The decision represents an opportunity for the Iran-hawk Trump to deliver on a campaign promise to rip up the Iran deal, one he has repeatedly deferred at the urging of senior officials.

Trump refused to recertify Tehran's commitments under the deal and threatened to terminate it unless the US Congress and European countries take action to address what he considers the deal's weakness.

The three months since then have shown little progress toward such a solution.

Trump's refusal to certify triggered a 60-day window for congress to restore the sanctions by a simple majority, without the possibility of a Senate filibuster, but congressional leaders took no action.

Trump cited in part Iran's role in the Middle East and its missile development, which he believes run counter to the US interests, for decertification of Iran.

His decision contradicted findings by international nuclear inspectors, who have repeatedly confirmed Iran's compliance with the landmark agreement.

***Decisive Deadlines

The deadlines for Trump begin on Jan. 11, when US law requires him—as it does every 90 days—to certify whether Tehran is meeting its obligations under the deal.

Even more consequential are upcoming deadlines for Trump to continue the temporary waiver of US sanctions on Iran, which the deal dictates will not be permanently repealed for several more years. The president must renew the waivers every 120 days. Sources familiar with the law said multiple waiver deadlines arrive between Jan. 12 and Jan. 17, forcing Trump to reassess the deal.

Top Trump administration officials, including National Security Advisor HR McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have warned that the potential fallout from a unilateral US withdrawal would be too great to risk.

McMaster has met with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker and the committee's ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin, to discuss potential legislation that might appease Trump. Congressional sources said the goal is to find language that would take a hard line on Iran—but on non-nuclear issues, so as not to violate the deal's terms, which prohibit the imposition of new conditions on Iran's nuclear program after the deal was concluded.

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