Deadline to Sabotage Iran Deal Passes

Two months ago when President Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA – despite the overwhelming evidence that Iran is complying – it appeared that the Senate would soon take action to kill the deal. But the 60-day window to quickly reimpose sanctions will pass today without any action. Additionally, legislation by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Bob Corker (R-TN) that would have killed the deal is now on ice.

Their proposed legislation was unveiled on the same day that the 60-day window opened for Congress to act, based on the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). Within those 60 days, Congress could have chosen to introduce “qualifying legislation… [which] shall be entitled to expedited consideration” regarding sanctions “that were waived, suspended, reduced, or otherwise relieved” by the Iran Deal. In other words, “under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, Congress could impose new sanctions against Iran in the next 60 days if the president decides to decertify it,” explained Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council in October.

Now that the window has passed, many experts are voicing their relief that Congress chose not to reimpose sanctions on Iran. When Iran Deal opponents were “presented with the opportunity to put their heated rhetoric to action with an up-or-down vote to kill the Iran deal, Congress quietly abstained. The only logical conclusion is that even critics of the agreement recognized the profound consequences of the U.S. unilaterally altering the terms of the deal and abandoning an agreement that is working,” says Jamal Abdi, executive director of National Iranian American Council (NIAC). The nonprofit advocacy group J Street agreed: “this is a clear sign that most Members of Congress understand a fundamental truth: The nuclear agreement is working and making Americans safer.”

The bill that would amend the INARA also seems to be at a standstill. Senators Cotton and Corker were unable “to convince Democrats to back any legislative proposals that would violate the accord,” said a statement by NIAC. “There appears to be no Congressional appetite to kill the deal in such a direct manner.”

NIAC also stated, “The proposal sought to automatically re-impose nuclear-related sanctions under various scenarios without regard to whether Iran is upholding its nuclear commitments. Under one such scenario, sanctions would be re-imposed if Iran ever moves under a one year ‘breakout’ timeline, which is not prohibited in the out years of the agreement.”

Richard Nephew, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution outlines the negative ramifications of the proposed legislation. He says the problem with this snapback system is that it “eliminates the opportunity for diplomacy and negotiation in managing incidents that might emerge. [It] could create unwarranted and unnecessary crises with Iran even where fundamental risks from the nuclear program are not present.”

These provisions could run the U.S. afoul of the Iran Deal: “By Corker and Cotton’s own description, their bill would automatically re-impose our nuclear sanctions even if Iran is continuing to comply with its commitments — this violates the deal,” says Tess Bridgeman, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama and deputy legal advisor to the National Security Council. “The Corker-Cotton approach has the potential to unshackle Iran’s nuclear program and turn international scrutiny on us… the Corker-Cotton proposal is inconsistent with our commitments, and the United States will not get a better deal by breaking the one that’s working.”

Even though the bill by Senators Corker and Cotton has not gathered enough support and the the 60-day window has passed without any Congressional action, experts are still worried about the future of the Iran Deal. Abdi says, “Unfortunately, the Administration and Congress continue to pursue a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to the nuclear deal, escalating sanctions and deterring businesses from permissible business in order to deny Iran the benefit of its bargain. Trump is kicking a hornet’s nest by threatening to unravel the nuclear accord and return the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.” Abdi does argue, however, that “If legislators recognize the profound consequences of unilaterally killing the nuclear accord, they should now step up to protect the nuclear deal and restrain Trump from irreversible self-inflicted wounds.”

Trump will face another recertification deadline on January 15 when, NIAC writes, he “must act once again to waive existing sanctions in order to uphold the JCPOA.” J Street urges Congress to “sideline and defeat the efforts of hawkish voices who seek to undermine and violate the nuclear agreement in order to advance their own dangerous, anti-diplomacy agenda.”

--Rose Blanchard is a research assistant and Meghan McCall a policy associate at Ploughshares Fund.

More resources

--“Congress considers the Iran nuclear deal” by Dougal Robinson for The Interpreter here.

--“Blog Post: Seventy Percent of Americans Know the Iran Nuclear Deal is Working for Them” by Kathryn Grant for Diplomacy Works here.

--“Trust in the IAEA’s verification of Iran’s nuclear activities” by Mark Fitzpatrick for IISS Voices here.

--“Iran Policy after Trump Decertification of the Nuclear Deal” by Barbara Slavin for Iran Insight here.

--“The Section T Canard: the Drive for Decertification and ‘Bomb Iran’ Redux” by Aaron Stein for War on the Rocks here.

--“Unmasking Trump’s Iran Plan” by Ben Rhodes for Crooked here.

--“US allies frustrated by Trump as they lobby hard to keep Iran deal” by Nicole Gaouette and Michelle Kosinski for CNN here.

--“Decertifying the Iran deal: A crisis of Trump's own making” by Jamie Tarabay for CNN here.

--“Will someone save Trump from this disastrous decision?” by Jackson Diehl for The Washington Post, here.

Edited by