Trump Set to Decertify Iran Deal, Shunning Experts

 In diplomacy, Iran, Nuclear Weapons, Trump Administration

This week, the Iran Nuclear Agreement – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – is under very real threat. Under legislation passed before the agreement was signed, the president has to certify Iran’s compliance, or lack thereof, with the agreement every 90 days. The next deadline is on October 15. While President Trump has certified Iran’s compliance twice already, albeit begrudgingly, reports suggest he is planning to decertify it in a speech scheduled for this Thursday, which would throw the future of the agreement into question.

Trump appears set to make this announcement despite an avalanche of expert voices that have testified that Iran is complying with the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog charged with conducting ongoing inspections of Iran’s nuclear activities, has confirmed Iran’s implementation of all commitments related to the deal. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has also said Iran is “fully delivering” on its commitments, and her British, French, and German counterparts have said they are unwilling to revisit the agreement while that remains the case.

Last month, more than 80 nuclear policy experts – including former senior U.S. nonproliferation and intelligence officials, a previous IAEA director, and a past member of the UN Panel of Experts on Iran – noted Iran’s compliance and argued that “the effective and verifiable arrangement… is a net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.” They proceeded to explain that not only would “abandoning the deal without clear evidence of an unresolved material breach by Iran…risk that Tehran would resume some of its nuclear activities,” but  “unilateral action” on the part of the U.S. would lead to diplomatic isolation and be an impediment to negotiating future nonproliferation agreements, including with North Korea.

Even key players in Trump’s own administration are opposed to decertifying Iran’s compliance. Defense Secretary James Mattis recently described the nuclear pact as being in America’s national security interest and “something that the president should consider staying with.” Speaking to concerns about what decertification could mean for U.S. credibility on the world stage, Mattis added, “When America gives her word, we have to live up to it and work with our allies.”

General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Mattis’ point, explaining that “our holding up agreements that we have signed, unless there’s a material breach, would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements.” Gen. Dunford also divulged that intelligence briefings he’s received “indicate that Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations,” further sharing his belief that the agreement indeed “delayed the development of nuclear capability by Iran.”

The leader of the U.S. Strategic Command, General John Hyten stated it plainly: “The facts are that Iran is operating under the agreements that we signed up for under the JCPOA.” Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accepted Iran’s “technical compliance” with the deal, while explaining other political matters were factors in the upcoming decision.

While decertification would throw a major wrench in the gears of the agreement, it would fall short of automatically ending it. Instead, it would likely line up a vote in Congress on whether or not to reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the agreement, leaving the fate of the deal in the hands of many of the same members of Congress who vehemently opposed the agreement in 2015.

Thankfully, some long-time opponents of the deal in Congress are beginning to change their tune. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he is “still looking” at the question. His colleague Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voiced concern that decertification would put Iran “in a position where they could get out from under the protocols under the agreement.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) suggested she would need to see evidence of non-compliance in order to support reimposing sanctions.

Others like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) have outright stated that the U.S. should remain in the deal. In the House, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has expressed the same position, saying Trump should “enforce the hell out of” the deal. Across the aisle, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), ardently against the deal two years ago, recently voiced his support for its preservation, and over 180 House Democrats, including previous detractors, banded together to urge the president to abide by the agreement.

If President Trump decides to ignore the expert findings of the IAEA, our international partners, nuclear policy experts, and many of his own advisors, Congress will have to decide whether to follow suit. With Republicans increasingly questioning the president’s reckless approach to foreign policy, such a vote could prove extremely close, and that means getting the swing votes on our side and those already with us to speak out in defense of the agreement. Please call your members of Congress today at the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and ask them to speak out in defense of the Iran nuclear agreement.

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