National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster briefed Republican leadership on Wednesday of President Donald Trump’s decision not to “certify” Iran’s compliance to an international nuclear deal, Jerusalem Post reports.
The president’s decision comes ahead of a deadline Sunday that triggers a 60-day window for lawmakers to determine whether to reimpose sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program that were lifted as part of the 2015 agreement. Members of Congress were briefed by McMaster, who confirmed Trump’s decision as final and promised the president would lay out a comprehensive strategy on Iran in a speech later this week.
McMaster reportedly offered Republican leaders draft legislation that would “fix” the most problematic aspects of the deal, according to NBC News. But Congress has no power to amend or renegotiate the JCPOA. Congressional officials said that the briefing was only offered to Republican lawmakers.
The administration specifically wants to renegotiate the sunset clause in the nuclear deal, which has it expiring 10 years after it goes into effect, the provisions on inspections — the U.S. wants them to be more stringent and to expand access to Iran’s military sites — and to curtail Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Administration and congressional sources say that the decision to decertify is part of a larger strategy to crack down on Iran’s missile program and its support for terrorism, but the plan is raising concerns of a potential backlash that could set the stage for another nuclear crisis.
The plan is also expected to highlight how the U.S. can work with allies to counter Iranian behavior and also address certain flaws in the nuclear deal. The world needs to look at Iran’s actions beyond the terms of just nuclear compliance, a source with knowledge of the plan told CNN on Wednesday.
Despite voting against the original deal when it was reached in 2015, New York Representative Eliot Engel – the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – said Wednesday that the U.S. needs to remain in the agreement and certify Iran’s compliance.
“Withholding certification would be a distraction from the real issues … and it’s playing with fire,” Engel said, adding that the move would be viewed by Iran and countries around the world as the first step toward withdrawing from the deal.
If Iran were to begin reinstalling its centrifuges and rebuilding its plutonium reactors, they would be able to begin rapidly expanding toward nuclear capability within a few years, said Jake Sullivan, a former top foreign policy adviser for Hillary Clinton who worked on negotiating the original deal in 2015. Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council, echoed Sullivan’s concerns.
“A failed certification would be the first step to unraveling the Iran nuclear deal and taking us to a new, devastating war of choice in the Middle East. The risks are too great to allow Trump to open up a nuclear Pandora’s box in the Middle East. Trump’s national security team, and all serious thinkers in Congress, must block the President from a failed certification before it is too late,” Parsi said in a statement to CNN.