U.S. President Donald Trump allowed the Iran nuclear deal to survive through 2017, but the new year will offer him another chance to blow up the agreement – and critics and supporters alike believe he may take it, Politico reports.
By mid-January, the president will face new legal deadlines to choose whether to slap U.S. sanctions back on Tehran. Senior lawmakers and some of Trump’s top national security officials are trying to preserve the agreement. But the deal’s backers fear Trump has grown more willing to reject the counsel of his foreign policy team, as he did with his recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The decision represents an opportunity for Trump to deliver on a campaign promise to rip up the Iran deal, one he has repeatedly deferred at the urging of senior officials. The three months since then have shown little progress toward such a solution.
In an effort to save the deal, members of Congress are discussing legislation that would give Trump political cover to extend the deal. But it’s not clear whether Republicans and Democrats can agree on even a symbolic measure in time.
“It’s entirely possible that Trump tells Congress and the Europeans, ‘I gave you 90 days to get your act together and you didn’t — and I’m done,’” said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a hawkish Washington think tank with close ties to the Trump White House.
Critics say the deal allowed Iran to retain too much nuclear capability and that the sanctions should have been given more time to bite. The deadlines for Trump begin on January 11, when the agreement requires him – as it does every 90 days – to certify whether Tehran is meeting its obligations under the deal. International inspectors who visit the country’s nuclear facilities have repeatedly said Iran is doing so.
Even more consequential are upcoming deadlines for Trump to continue the temporary waiver of U.S. sanctions on Iran, which the deal dictates will not be permanently repealed for several more years. The president must renew the waivers every 120 days. Sources familiar with the law said multiple waiver deadlines arrive between Jan. 12 and Jan. 17, forcing Trump to reassess the deal.
If Trump rejects the waivers and restores biting sanctions, Tehran is certain to claim the U.S. has breached the agreement and – supporters of the deal say – may restart its nuclear program. That could court a military confrontation with the U.S. and Israel. At a minimum, the U.S. would find itself isolated abroad given that every other party to the deal – France, the UK, Germany, China, and Russia – all strongly oppose a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.
Congressional sources said the goal is to find language that would take a hard line on Iran – but on non-nuclear issues so as not to violate the deal’s terms, which prohibit the imposition of new conditions on Iran’s nuclear program after the deal was concluded. A legislative fix might also end the requirement that Trump certify the deal every 90 days, removing a recurring political thorn in the president’s side.
A congressional measure “may convince Trump to somehow say he has changed the conversation and he may not take any precipitous action in the near term,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a nonprofit Washington group that strongly supports the nuclear agreement.