Trump could kill Iran nuclear deal in January: Politico

December 30, 2017 - 7:14

U.S. President Donald Trump will soon face a series of deadlines during which he could deliver on a campaign promise to rip up the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

Trump allowed the deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), 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.

According to Politico, the president will face new legal deadlines by mid-January to choose whether to reimpose 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.

The decision represents an opportunity for Trump to deliver on a campaign promise to rip up the JCPOA, one he has repeatedly deferred at the urging of senior officials.

When Trump last publicly addressed the status of the agreement, in mid-October, he indicated his patience had worn thin with what he has called “the worst deal ever,” and demanded that Congress and European countries take action to address what he considers the deal’s weakness.

“[I]n the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Trump said in an Oct. 13 speech.

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. 

“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.

The deal was negotiated in 2015 by the Obama administration, along with five other nations. It lifted U.S. and European sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program. 

The deadlines for Trump begin on Jan. 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. But Trump refused to certify Iranian compliance in mid-October.

Trump’s refusal to certify had no immediate practical effect on the deal, passing the responsibility to Congress. 

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 say the U.S. has breached the agreement and may restart its nuclear program. 

At a minimum, the U.S would find itself isolated abroad given that every other party to the deal strongly opposes a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

Top Trump administration officials, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, all hope to avoid that outcome, telling others that while they may not love the nuclear deal, the potential fallout from a unilateral U.S. withdrawal would be too great to risk.

McMaster has met with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin of Maryland, to discuss potential legislation that might appease Trump. As the year wound down, Cardin and Corker continued discussions about what such legislation could look like.

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.

Shortly before Congress adjourned for the holidays, Corker expressed optimism on the subject: “I’m actually feeling like we might get someplace.”

Trump administration officials have also appealed to the French, British and Germans to come up with proposals that might serve as supplements to the nuclear deal, but the Europeans have shown minimal interest.

That has left supporters of the deal alarmed that Trump may finally shrug off appeals from top officials and, in effect, tear up the deal as he has long threatened to do.


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