Decertifying The Iran Nuclear Deal Would Be A Foolish, Potentially Dangerous, Error
Reports are indicating that President Trump will decertify the nuclear weapons deal with Iran. This would be a foolish and potentially dangerous mistake.
President Trump will apparently announce next week that he will decertify the nuclear deal with Iran, a move that will require Congress to take the next step but which also seems likely to have a negative impact on America’s relationship with key allies and adversaries alike:
WASHINGTON — President Trump is expected to overrule his top national security advisers and decline to certify the Iran nuclear agreement, according to people who have been briefed on the matter, a decision that would reopen a volatile political debate on Iran but is likely to leave in place the landmark deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
By declining to certify Iran’s compliance, Mr. Trump would essentially kick it to Congress to decide whether to reimpose punitive economic sanctions. Even among Republicans, there appears to be little appetite to do that, at least for now.
Still, Mr. Trump’s expected move would allow him to tell supporters that he had disavowed the accord, while bowing to the reality that the United States would isolate itself from its allies if it sabotaged a deal with which Iran is viewed as complying. Mr. Trump repeatedly ridiculed the accord during the 2016 presidential campaign, vowing to rip it up.
White House officials cautioned that the president had not yet formally decided to “decertify” the agreement. But he faces an Oct. 15 deadline, and he has made little secret of his intentions, most recently when he declared at the United Nations two weeks ago that the agreement was ”embarrassing to the United States.”
Mr. Trump will present his decision on the deal as part of a broader American strategy to crack down on Iran for its ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East. Administration officials said he had signed off on the overall approach and hoped he would present it before the deadline.
The strategy is an effort by the Trump administration to make the nuclear agreement only part of a multidimensional approach to pressure Iran on many fronts, including its missile program, its support for militant groups like Hezbollah and its intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Assad government.
But the administration has yet to articulate that broader strategy. As a result, the nuclear deal remains the fulcrum of the relationship with Iran — and a political football in Washington.
Congress will have to decide whether to reimpose sanctions, which could sink the deal, or use the prospect of that to force Iran — and the other parties to the deal — back to the negotiating table to make changes in the agreement.
That is the approach favored by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who has emerged as a leading hard-liner on Iran and is working closely with the White House to devise its strategy. On Thursday, Mr. Cotton met with Mr. Trump to discuss Iran and other issues.
“Congress and the president, working together, should lay out how the deal must change and, if it doesn’t, the consequences Iran will face,” Mr. Cotton said in a speech on Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. Reimposing sanctions, he said, would be a “backward-looking step.”
Mr. Cotton said the United States and its allies should demand three changes to the deal: an elimination of “sunset clauses,” under which restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities are phased out in less than 14 years; a strengthening of international inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities; and a curbing the country’s ballistic and cruise-missile programs.
Democrats argue that Mr. Trump should certify the agreement, warning that the administration’s ability to press Iran on other activities it objects to would be compromised — rather than enhanced — if the United States threw the future of the agreement into question.
Britain, France and Germany, all signatories to the agreement, are watching Mr. Trump’s deliberations with deepening concern. Diplomats from the three countries, as well as from the European Union, met with dozens of senators this week to warn them that if the United States withdrew, Europe would not follow.
“For us, this is a high priority in our national security,” said Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to Washington. “We will stand by the Iran deal, and we want you not to walk away, but to comply with it. We share some of the grievances you have about Iran, and we can talk about it — and we should talk about it — but only on the basis of sticking to the deal.”
The deal is also contentious inside the administration. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis have both urged Mr. Trump not to back out of it, in part because that would free Iran to begin producing uranium and reprocessing plutonium immediately, not after 13 years, as is stipulated in the agreement.
But Mr. Trump, after twice certifying the deal, has warned his aides that he would not do so again. As a result, the administration is looking for ways to claim Iran is in violation of the “spirit” of the accord, even if it has complied with inspection criteria. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran was in compliance; when it has found minor violations, they have been quickly fixed.
The president could also decline to certify it by claiming that the deal is simply not in the national security interests of the United States.
While the White House said that Mr. Trump had not formally signed a decision memo on the certification issue, he tipped his hand in mid-September with a less heralded, but in many ways more important, decision. At that time, facing another congressionally imposed deadline, he agreed to renew an exemption on sanctions on Iran.
Mr. Trump said nothing about that decision, which he came to reluctantly in a series of National Security Council meetings.
Declining to recertify Iran’s compliance would amount to a compromise. Because it is simply a notification from the White House to Congress, it has no legal effect by itself. Mr. Trump could tell his supporters that he broke with President Barack Obama on the deal, without actually violating its terms.
“It appears to be part of a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ strategy by the administration,” said Philip H. Gordon, who coordinated Middle East policy in the National Security Council during the Obama administration.
The risk, Mr. Gordon said, is that “while the administration may hope Congress refrains from passing new sanctions that cause the nuclear deal to collapse, no one can guarantee that outcome.” He noted that every Republican member of Congress voted against the deal.
Given Trump’s rhetoric regarding the deal during the campaign, this is hardly surprising. Throughout that period, he called the agreement a bad deal and claimed that the United States had gotten ‘snookered’ into an agreement that basically guaranteed Iran would be able to continue its nuclear weapons research program and that it would receive billions of dollars in sanction relief and cash in addition to that. Had he been President, he claimed, he would have easily been able to get a “better deal” from Iran and he used it as yet another opportunity to mock both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even though she had virtually no role in negotiating the deal since all of that happened after she had left office. Additionally, along with all of the other Republican Presidential candidates he vowed that he would back out of the deal as soon as he became President. Instead of doing that, though, Trump instead acted twice to certify to Congress that Iran was complying with the deal, but it was clear from reports that he was doing so reluctantly and only at the urging of the somewhat moderating voices in his Administration such as Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Adviser H.L. McMaster. Based on reports at the time, though, it was clear that Trump was doing so reluctantly against his own instincts. Now, it appears he’s ready to act on those instincts regardless of the consequences.
As the article quoted above makes clear, decertifying the deal doesn’t mean that the United States is pulling out or that the deal is in immediate danger of collapse. It does, however, make that even more likely. In fact, decertification is not even part of the deal itself but part of the legislation passed last year under which Congress originally considered that deal which requires the President to certify on a regular basis that Iran is complying with the agreement. The legislation also allows the President to decertify on the ground that the deal continues to be in the national interest of the United States. It is unclear at this point exactly what grounds the President will use when he announces decertification and what evidence he may cite in support of that conclusion if he provides any evidence at all. In any case, when that decertification does take place the ball will then be in Congress’s court to decide if new sanctions should be imposed on Iran. If that’s the route Congress wishes to take then they would have to consider and vote on a bill that would have to pass both Houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. While it might seem probable that the Republican-controlled House would pass such legislation, it’s fate in the Senate is by no means secure both due to the legislative filibuster and the fact that many top Senate Republicans are indicating they would oppose such a measure:
[W]hile congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the nuclear deal two years ago, there’s far less unity on how quickly the GOP-led Congress should move to “snap back” sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iran agreement. Doing so would effectively dismantle the 2015 deal.
Even a few defections would make a difference in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 52-seat majority. Democratic senators, even those who opposed the nuclear agreement two years ago, want the deal to remain in place. As it stands now, enough Republicans are undecided that GOP leaders would struggle to corral the votes needed to reimpose sanctions.
The choice could land on Capitol Hill later this month, if Trump declines to certify by an Oct. 15 deadline that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. The agreement lifted stiff sanctions against Iran that had been in place for decades in exchange for significant restrictions on the nation’s nuclear program.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) made clear he’s undecided on whether to reimpose sanctions, saying in an interview that “we’ll have to look and see what that does.”
“I don’t think that we should relieve Iran of its obligations,” said Flake, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. “They realize the benefits already of the sanctions relief. And now, to be in a position where they could get out from under the protocols under the agreement, that’s what I’m worried about.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters recently that he is “still looking at” the issue and remains undecided. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she wants to see the evidence on whether Iran has been compliant with the deal or not.
Other influential players, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), don’t believe Trump should begin retreating from the deal. Royce said the president should instead “enforce the hell out of” it.
Senate Democrats overwhelmingly oppose withdrawing from the agreement, even though several of them rejected it two years ago, including now-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
“There is a clear cause-and-effect relationship: Republicans would cast a vote that would set Iran back on a path to a nuclear weapon,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “I just can’t understand why any Republican would want that on their conscience, or would want that politically.”
Congress has other options besides reimposing sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could decide to move a new sanctions plan, though that strategy would require 60 votes, which could make it considerably more difficult for the Kentucky lawmaker to move such a measure through the chamber.
Lawmakers could also do nothing. Even if Trump declares Iran to be in violation of the agreement, de-certifying by itself wouldn’t kill the nuclear deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pointed out in a recent interview with POLITICO.
The leading force in the Senate in favor of reimposing the sanctions that have been lifted in the wake of the deal, or imposing new sanctions, appear to be the group of Republican hawks led by people such as Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has quickly emerged as one of the most hawkish members of the Senate GOP Caucus. It’s also likely that Senators such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz would support such a measure. What’s unclear is how many other Republicans would join them and how many would join the group made up of people like Rand Paul, John McCain, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker who are indicating that they would likely oppose either reimposing sanctions that were lifted pursuant to the deal or imposing new sanctions. Even if such a measure could be passed without reaching the sixty vote threshold, the odds are it would not pass the Senate if even just three of these Republicans voted against it. So, in that sense, the future of the deal is in the hands of Congress and it remains to be seen if they will want to be seen as wrecking an agreement that was the result of years of international effort. In effect then, Trump’s decertification is in some sense a purely symbolic move that would not necessarily mean the end of the deal.
Even if Congress doesn’t act to reimpose sanctions, though, there’s still the prospect that Trump’s move could have negative consequences for the United States among both allies and adversaries. As noted, the nuclear deal was a result of years of coordinated sanction and negotiations that involved the United Nations and a number of nations around the world including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and, of course, Iran. Each of these nations played a key role both in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table and which led to the deal that was eventually reached in Switzerland last year. By all accounts, Iran has complied with all of its obligations under that agreement, and the rest of the nations involved in the negotiations seem to be in full agreement on that point. Several of them, including American allies like England, France, and Germany, have said that decertifying the deal by the United States would be in bad faith given that compliance and indicated that they would not be inclined to reimpose the sanctions that they had lifted as part of the agreement absent evidence that Iran had violated its obligations under the agreement. All three of these nations have seen their industries making several large business deals with Iran as a result of the lifted sanctions, and would be unlikely to halt the deal at this time. Additionally, it’s unlikely that either Russia or China would agree to reimpose their own sanctions against the deal. In other words, the United States would be alone in the world if Congress decided to reimpose sanctions and our allies would once again be left wondering whether we can be trusted to adhere to any deal in the Trump Era.
In addition to alienating allies, an action of this type could make negotiating with adversaries more difficult since it would throw into doubt the question of whether or not the United States can be trusted to live up to its side of an agreement. This would impact not only our relationship with nations such as Russia and China but also issues such as the potential renegotiation of certain terms of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and other agreements President Trump has promised to renegotiate to get some mythical better deal. Most ominously, of course, a move like this would impact the international efforts to deal with the North Korean nuclear program and Pyongyang’s aggressive rhetoric against the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other nations in the region. For both the North Koreans and the Chinese, as well as our allies in South Korea, Japan and elsewhere in the region. As it is the North Koreans are clearly paranoid when it comes to the United States and the west. A move like this would likely lead them to wonder, with some justification, whether the United States can or should be trusted to live up to its agreements. These conclusions would be even more justified if Congress ends up reimposing sanctions even though there doesn’t appear to be a legitimate basis to do so. The consequences of this unwise, ill-advised move cannot be understated.
Despite all of this, President Trump seems committed to living up to yet another piece of irresponsible campaign rhetoric. Let’s hope that Congress doesn’t take the bait.
Foolish and dangerous, yes. But since the Republican donor base and Trump’s Id are driven completely by “If Obama did it, repeal it!”, decertification seems to be inevitable.
This just makes me shake my damn head. I am also coming to the belief that if Tom Cotton is in favor if it, then I must be opposed to it.
Not sure if “yet another” implies he has lived up to other parts of his irresponsible campaign rhetoric. Yes, he’s tried, but I can’t think of anything he’s actually accomplished. Obamacare? Still the law. Wall? Neither built nor even funded (by anybody including Mexico). Hillary? Not in jail.
OK, OK, he pulled out of the Paris accord. Wish he had always been successful at pulling out.
That struck me as really funny.
OK, apparently he can decertify saying it’s not in the country’s best interest. But is it even possible to decertify because they’re supposedly violating the “spirit”?
Obama was bright enough to separate the nuclear issue from other issues. He recognized that it’s best to take one bite at a time and that Hezbollah, while certainly evil, is not a threat to the United States. Trump, on the other hand, had a meeting with Sheldon Adelson a few days before this. Despite Trump’s claims of self financing his campaign, Adelson gave him millions. Make Israel Great Again?
Obama’s foreign policy motto was “Don’t Do Stupid Shit”. As with health care, the GOPs are about do do stupid stuff because they made stupid promises.
One additional point in favor of the deal. One of the frequently heard objections is that it allows Iran to work on nuclear weapons when the deal expires in the future. However, in the event that we get the deal terminated, that means that Iran can work on nuclear arms immediately after. In other words, the practical effect would be exactly the opposite of what Trump wants.
So much winning!
Trump can decertify all he wants, but the fact is that the US has zero leverage.
Europe, China, and Russia will not re-impose sanctions.
US-Iran trade, by itself, isn’t anything to write home about, so what can the US do that actually hurts Iran?
Short of military action, nothing at all.
To be honest, I wouldn’t even be surprised if yet another war is the actual goal here, but that will – I suspect – strike a death blow to the US-Euro alliance.
Hooray for Putin, I guess.
… and of course Iran is ready to cave in and do as Trump wants:
The art of the deal, indeed.
I have to steal a joke. Guy says the leader is a moron. He’s arrested, tried, and given a long sentence for revealing state secrets. Remember when that was a joke about the Soviet Union?
Who’s “we” – the United States? Ain’t gonna happen. Trust me on this.
Kerry busts his ass to achieve a deal that made the world a safer place and instead of the GOP base kissing his heinie like they should and bowing down in front of him and saying I am not worthy…they want to tell Iran that it is my way or the highway, good luck with that.
Also, DRJ, I love how the Saudis distracted President Trump with that great big glowing orb, and Putin visits them and do we see any photo ops with Putin in front of an orb, nope we read about him becoming more entrenched in the Middle East and being able to have a direct voice into how much or how little oil OPEC countries should produce on a daily basis to keep prices favorable for Russia, the Saudis, etc. What a contrast…Putin gets an immediate voice on policy (oil production) that has a global impact, while President Trump gets a photo opp and vague promises of a 100 billion dollar commitment to buy arms or whatever from the U.S….ughhh.
Long time and old school GOP party members must be pulling out their hair in frustration when they see the news that came out of President Trumps visit to Saudi Arabia vs Putin’s visit.
This is rapidly turning into a case of kabuki politics and the US not being listened to by anyone else out there. Israel and Saudi Arabia will love it, of course. Always hoping to get the US geared up into attacking Iran. (Some would say that this would only be karma considering that it was Iran’s planting of “evidence” that got the US gingered up to attack the other big I.)
I am so tired of our politicians being stupid enough to be cat’s paws for every two-bit player in the Mideast….
Putin’s laughing all the way to the bank. He got his money’s worth.
Now would be a good time to release the pee tape. Russia wants to do business with Iran.
This deal is not perfect, but it does put the ball in Iran’s court. And they have to face other countries besides the US.
“Ain’t gonna happen.”
Probably not. My point was that we should not want it to happen.
Reporting that something that Trump is planning is “a foolish potentially dangerous error” has become so common that it’s no longer actually news worthy. Note, I am not advocating that we stop reporting on the foolish and potentially dangerous errors of the Trump administration; it’s simply that every decision the man makes is foolish, short-sighted, dangerous, erroneous, at odds with the interests of the nation, at odds with the interests of the citizens, damaging to the nation and its citizens, perilous to the economy, and ill-suited even to the goals–as misguided and destructive as they are–of the Republican Party (!!). And we are stuck with watching this Bizarro World version of “The Government Apprentice” for 4 to 8 more years because 80% of Republicans are wastes of the communal oxygen the whole world shares.
Sad. Pathetic. Bigly so.
@Tyrell: I’m too lazy to look it up, but I don’t recall you having that position at the time of the ratification of the deal. I’m relieved that you have learned something. Don’t stop pushing the boundaries of your intellect now that you’ve started growing intellectually.
On the other hand, maybe you need to check your past posts so you can stay on script. Check with your bot supervisor for instructions.
@Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:
You overestimate how in-tune the average man on the street is with the ebb and flow of politics. The rural/uneducated (not always an overlap) people I’ve interacted with vote R because they’ve always voted R, kind of how the south had for many decades after civil rights a sizeable number of ignorant people who kept voting D because that’s how their fathers voted, even when the party moved away from representing their values.
One friend from the Appalachian part of North Carolina said that people back home see it as a cultural identity matter – I’m a white rural gun-toting Bible-thumping redneck. Rs are the party that represent people like me. At a certain point the degree of identification becomes tribal and any attempt to reason with these people becomes futile. Unfortunately for the electoral college, being a liberal, she got a degree at Harvard and moved to San Francisco for work.
There’s a lot of leeway for “batshit crazy” because aw shucks he’s our crazy. Partisanship, with a healthy dose of self-segregation in media consumption (don’t hear the truth, choose the “truth” you want to hear), has destroyed reasonable debate. How can we have a civilized discussion when we can’t even agree what the facts are?
For that reason no matter how badly Trump screws up, his floor of support is probably around 38% and with this he still has a solid chance at re-election.
@Tyrell: Dearie, I suggest you look at the amount of cars that Germany is already selling to Iran. And the amount of oil that Iran processes. And I suggest that you look at where they are geographically. See? Black Sea? Straits of Hormuz?
We’re the only country that’s been having a cow over Iran. Everyone else only grudgingly went along with us and they were sort of worried as well. Now that we’re acting crazier than Iran, the pendulum is swinging the other way and I wouldn’t be surprised if they backed up Iran in order to cock a snook at us and our toddler of a POTUS.
No one CARES any more. We’ve effectively neutralized ourselves and divested ourselves of our soft power.
@Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: I did some research on it. I think it puts Iran on notice and demands some accountability. As I said, not perfect, but we’ll take it.
I know I was kind of harsh on Sec. Kerry ( ” flimmed and flammed, starched and parched, taken to the cleaners and hung out to dry” ). But he’s okay.
I do change my positions on issues from time to time.
On the one hand, decertifying the Iran deal seems like a bad idea.
On the other hand, allowing conservatives to continue their cost-free demagoguery of Iran seems like a bad idea.
On the gripping hand, I would really like to know who is going to be held responsible if keeping the deal in place ultimately results in a nuclear Iran. It’s not like anyone has been held accountable for North Korea…or Iraq…or Syria…or Libya…or Yemen…or Turkey…or Venezuela…or…
@MBunge: No one’s going to CARE is the point. Except for Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are trying to get the US to go into mass hysteria over omigod-Iran-has-NUKES! and take out their main Mideast rival (with our soldiers and our finances, natch.)
But after dealing with North Korea, Iran looks like Mr. Milquetoast-in-the-neighborhood.
@Rick Zhang: I think that you misinterpret my position. I don’t disagree that the VAST majority of Trump supporters and Republicans in general lack the malevolence of Trump. i don’t care. The fact that these nitwits are so clueless as to just go with their team is what makes them wastes of communal air. And I am fully aware of the likelihood of a second Trump victory in 2020. My only peace about the fact that roughly half the country are witless morons is that Trump is more incompetent than I could have possibly imagined. With any kind of luck from Providence at all, his administration will become an asterisk in the history of our nation. The fact that the party he misrepresents will embrace such vileness is a blot on our country that may not be able to be erased because that party continues to plumb the depths of depravity.
The fact that they are stupid, uncaring, uninvolved, and unthinking is the very core of why I describe them as wastes of communal oxygen. That they “don’t really mean it” (which I no longer believe) only makes them worse.
It seems to beg coincidence that Trump announced he might decertify a few days after a meeting with Sheldon Adelson, who pumped a ton of money into Trump’s campaign.
@MBunge: “On the gripping hand, I would really like to know who is going to be held responsible if keeping the deal in place ultimately results in a nuclear Iran:
And how do you propose to “hold them responsible”? Jail time? Execution? Docking their salary? What does this even mean?