The nuclear deal with Iran requires presidential recertification every 90 days.
President Trump will not be renewing that certification this week. The issue will move to Congress, where lawmakers will have 60 days to decide whether to impose fresh sanctions on Iran.
Trump is expected to ask Congress to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act rather than to impose new sanctions or abandon the deal.
If that effort fails, Trump has threatened to unilaterally withdraw from the agreement. If the amendments are approved by Congress and Iran fails to obey the requirements, the US could then impose fresh sanctions that could break the deal.
“As I have said many times, the Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” said Trump.
As I wrote in a previous article, the decertification will be announced alongside a new Iran strategy that focuses on other destabilizing actions such as the country’s hostility towards Israel, sponsorship of terrorism, threats to navigation in the Persian Gulf, human rights abuses, and support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The White House also wants Congress to address “sunset clauses” that allow Iran to resume certain nuclear activities 10-15 years in the future.
Tehran argues that any sanctions approved by Congress would violate the nuclear deal, but the larger community (including European allies) agrees that sanctions are justified and have nothing to do with the 2015 deal.
“The full range of the Iranian regime’s malign activities extends well beyond the nuclear threat it poses,” reads a fact sheet released by the White House on Friday morning.
The document criticizes the previous administration’s focus on Iran’s nuclear program “to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities” that have allowed “Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high-water mark.”
The new Iran strategy seeks to change the regime’s behavior and to neutralize and counter threats – particularly from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In a statement, the White House referred to the IRGC as “one of the most dangerous threats to the interests of the United States and to regional stability.”
“The Iranian regime has taken advantage of regional conflicts and instability to aggressively expand its regional influence and threaten its neighbors with little domestic or international cost for its actions. This occurred most recently following the emergence of ISIS from the vacuum created by the Obama administration’s ill-considered withdrawal from the region.”
President Trump has also criticized past administrations for prioritizing the threat of Sunni extremist groups over that of “Iranian-backed militancy.” In this case he is probably referring to Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group based in Lebanon and supported by Iran.
Efforts to rewrite or abandon the deal will be a hard sell for US allies that participated in months of negotiations with Obama.
The claim that Iran is not complying with the rules of the deal “contradicts the assessment of all member states of the EU – and it contradicts our assessment,” argues German Foreign Minster Sigmar Gabriel.
Democrats are also pushing back against Trump’s idea. “The effect of what the president has done has really been to constrain our freedom of action,” complains Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), “because steps we might have taken to constrain Iran’s malevolent activity will now be viewed through the prism of the president’s hostility to the nuclear deal.”
Defense Sec. James Mattis and Sec. of State Rex Tillerson have also urged Trump to uphold the deal.
Ben Rhodes, who worked for Obama as deputy national security adviser, says Trump’s plan is rooted in his frustration over having to ratify the Obama-era deal every 90 days.
“This is entirely over Trump’s annoyance with the certification process. It forces him to certify Iran is complying, the deal is working, and all his bombastic rhetoric about the deal has been based in dishonesty.”
Editor’s note: If Trump lets this go, Iran will have a nuclear weapon within a couple of years. He has to do something.