WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Friday afternoon that he is decertifying the Iran nuclear agreement, the 2015 accord signed by the U.S., Iran and five other nations.
But in announcing decertification, he will not officially commit the U.S. to leaving the agreement, but rather punt the issue to Congress.
Because of an oversight law passed by Congress in 2015, the president’s decision would trigger a 60-day period, during which time lawmakers can fast-track legislation to reimpose sanctions against Iran with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate. Reimposing nuclear-BOOKr.VIP sanctions against Iran or unilaterally altering the U.S. commitments under the nuclear deal could prompt Iran to declare the U.S. noncompliant and walk away from the agreement.
The expected announcement follows a lengthy interagency review and months of speculation about whether the president would scrap the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since the presidential campaign, Trump has promised that he would either scrap the Iran deal or renegotiate it to make it more favorable to the U.S. Throughout the interagency review, Trump’s top advisers urged him against scrapping the deal and warned him that other parties to the agreement were not interested in relitigating its terms, something that the other nations have also said publicly.
Although Trump has repeatedly trashed the nuclear accord, he has faced massive resistance to pulling out of, or taking steps that could kill, the agreement.
Trump’s expected decision to decertify but not leave the accord would amount to a narrow balancing act between his campaign pledges and the advice of his advisers.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, tasked with monitoring the use of nuclear energy, has continued to verify Iranian compliance with its commitments under the agreement. The U.S. intelligence community found no evidence to challenge those findings, and State Department officials have overwhelmingly advocated remaining in the accord.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis testified earlier this month that abiding by the agreement is consistent with U.S. national security interests. And U.S. allies in Europe who helped negotiate the agreement have made clear that they are not interested in renegotiating it.
For its part, Iran has repeatedly warned that it could consider the multilateral agreement null if the U.S. doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. That could mean that Iran would ramp up its nuclear program and deny access to international inspectors who have been monitoring its nuclear sites as a result of the agreement.
After media outlets first reported that Trump was likely to decertify the Iran deal and toss the issue to Congress, lawmakers who had previously criticized the agreement indicated they were not necessarily ready to help kill it.
“As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Wednesday. In 2015, Royce introduced a resolution attempting to block implementation of the nuclear accord.
Several other congressional Republicans, who once unanimously opposed the agreement, have expressed discomfort with backing out of the Iran deal in the face of Trump’s move to decertify it.
Influential Democrats who broke with former President Obama in 2015 over the nuclear deal are also now urging Trump to enforce it. Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the top Democrats on the House and Senate committees that focus on foreign affairs, have reversed their opposition to the agreement.
Killing the deal would be a “grave mistake” now that it is in place and has the support of U.S. allies, Engel said. Cardin has aggressively pressured the Trump administration to certify Iran’s compliance and issued public reminders underscoring the lack of evidence about Iranian violations of the agreement.
Critics-turned-supporters of the deal say that it is too late to pull out now, especially without evidence that Iran is cheating.
“It would send a terrible signal to other states … if Washington were to abrogate a treaty simply because of a change of administrations,” Max Boot, a foreign policy analyst who had initially opposed the agreement, wrote for Foreign Policy.
“Why would anyone trust Washington to keep its word ever again?”
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