WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to “decertify” the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by announcing to Congress next week that the agreement is not in the national interest of the United States, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
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According to the report, Trump's announcement will leave Congress with the dilemma of whether or not to actually scrap the nuclear deal by reimposing sanctions on Iran that were removed in 2015. If all 48 Democrats in the Senate vote against reimposing the sanctions, something which at this point seems likely, it would require the opposition of three Republican lawmakers to keep the nuclear deal alive.
President Donald Trump said on Thursday that Iran had not lived up to the spirit of the nuclear deal agreed with world powers and suggested he would reveal his decision on whether to certify the agreement soon.
"We must not allow Iran ... to obtain nuclear weapons," Trump said during a meeting with military leaders at the White House.
"The Iranian regime supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East. That is why we must put an end to Iran's continued aggression and nuclear ambitions. They have not lived up to the spirit of their agreement," he said.
Asked about his decision on whether to certify or decertify the landmark nuclear deal, Trump said: "You'll be hearing about Iran very shortly."
If Trump indeed decides to “decertify” the deal, but leaves it to Congress to decide whether or not to place sanctions on the Islamic Republic, the actual decision whether on not to put an end to the nuclear agreement would be delayed. It is possible that in such a scenario there will not be enough votes in the Senate, where republicans have a slim four-member majority, for imposing new sanctions, and thus the nuclear deal could be wounded, but not totally destroyed. Yet it is impossible to predict what exactly the Senate will do, and it is possible that if Trump chooses such a path, it would eventually lead to an American withdrawal from the deal and its possible collapse.
In recent days, a number of prominent critics of the 2015 deal and of the Obama administration's wider policy on Iran have publicly stated that despite their objections, they believe Trump should keep the U.S. committed to the deal, as long as there is no clear evidence that Iran has breached it. The most important statement was made on Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who said during a hearing in the Senate that he believes it was in the national security interest of the U.S. to maintain the deal. Mattis, a retired four-star general, is considered hawkish when it comes to Iran, which is why his statement could be significant if and when the debate moves on to Capitol Hill.
On Wednesday, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published a statement calling on Trump to recertify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Cardin was one of four Democratic senators who voted against the nuclear deal in 2015. He is also considered one of the strongest supporters of Israel within the Democratic Party and recently sponsored a controversial piece of legislation against boycotts of Israel and the settlements, known as the "Israel Anti-Boycott Act."
Yet in his statement on Wednedsay, Cardin warned that "leaving the [nuclear deal] at this point, absent concrete facts and material determinations, would isolate us from our allies and partners when we need them to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities and deal with other pressing global challenges, such as the North Korean nuclear crisis." He also stated that Trump should announce a broad strategy pushing back against Iran's regional aggression and punishing it for supporting terrorism and developing ballistic missiles – but without destroying the nuclear deal.
Another strong supporter of Israel within the Democratic Party, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, led a group of over 180 Democratic members of Congress who sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday morning, urging him to recertify that Iran was in compliance. Deutch, like Cardin, voted against the deal in 2015. Their position is at odds with that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in recent weeks has been consistently callling on the Trump administration to nix the nuclear deal.
In the letter spearheaded by Deutch, the Democratic members wrote: "Some of us voted for, and some against, the nuclear agreement with Iran. Nonetheless, we are united in our belief that enforcing this agreement to the fullest extent will provide the United States with more leverage to stop a potential Iranian nuclear weapons program and push back on Iran's destabilizing activities."
The members clarified that they "share concerns about Iran's activities in the region, including its ballistic missile development, support for proxies and terror groups, violations of the human rights of its people, and backing of the Assad regime." They ended their letter by calling on Trump to implement "vigorous enforcement" of the nuclear deal.