Republicans Pull Back on Iran Deal Legislation in Setback for Trump

A top Senate Republican is shelving draft legislation that would have triggered nuclear-related sanctions back on Iran over its ballistic missile activity, acknowledging it cannot garner the 50 votes required for passage and would ostracize foreign allies, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, continues to work with members of his own party, Democrats, European envoys and the Trump administration hoping to construct legislation that will send a message of toughness to Tehran while keeping the nuclear accord intact. But the amendment he initially previewed one month ago with Senator Tom Cotton, alongside President Donald Trump’s national address on Iran policy, will not advance as planned.

It is a setback for the Trump administration, which in its rollout of a comprehensive policy approach to Iran characterized Corker and Cotton’s bill as a “legislative remedy” to its concerns with the Iran nuclear deal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requested a vote on it within 90 days.

Corker and Cotton’s legislation would have amended the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – itself co-authored by Corker back in 2015 – to effectively extend provisions of the Iran nuclear deal indefinitely in the eyes of U.S. law. The amendment would have instituted triggers for U.S. sanctions on Iran that had been lifted by the deal, targeting not only Iran’s obligations under the accord but also matters not addressed in the deal itself.

Republicans believe that Iran’s ballistic missile work is inherently tied to its nuclear program, as these delivery vehicles are uniquely designed to carry nuclear payloads. But the six world powers that negotiated the deal with Iran – the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – left ballistic missiles out of the agreement after Iran argued the technology was in fact a conventional weapons system.

Immediately upon its public release, the Corker-Cotton amendment was roundly condemned by European governments and Democrats as an effort to unilaterally renegotiate the closed, two-year-old agreement. Corker’s office did not deny claims that he has moved on from the amendment, but Cotton’s communications director said that claims they had moved on from legislation that included automatic triggers are “categorically inaccurate.”

“Senator Cotton and Senator Corker are very much still working together on a bill that reflects the same framework laid out last month,” she said.

Republican and Democratic aides both say that a bipartisan consensus has formed against taking any legislative action that would materially breach the agreement, or that would institute a structure sure to trigger a breach of the agreement. On the Hill this week, the European Union’s top foreign policy envoy, Federica Mogherini, said she witnessed this consensus in her meetings.

“We are exchanging views with the legislators on the need to make sure, before a bill is presented, that its contents do not represent a violation of the agreement. I got clear indications that the intention is to keep the United States in compliance with the agreement,” she said.

Lawmakers are working against two time lines, both of which may prove arbitrary. The first is a formal 60-day review period legally prompted by Trump’s decision not to “certify” Iran’s performance in the nuclear deal last month. The second timeline is a 90-day period proposed by Tillerson, motivated by the president’s desire to avoid publicly “certifying” Iran’s compliance to the nuclear deal every 90 days – another legal requirement.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this report.

Democrats and Republicans both seem intent on satisfying Trump’s appetite for action, cognizant that their failure to pass anything by the new year will likely incur his wrath and blame. In the words of one Democratic aide, the president’s threat to pull out of the deal wholesale absent legislative action “does have some weight, in that Congress does not want to be the president’s scapegoat here.