5 things to know about Trump and the Iran deal

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President Trump appears poised next week to announce that the landmark Iran nuclear agreement is no longer in the national interest of the United States.

The so-called “decertification” would not be the fatal blow to the Iran deal that Trump promised on the campaign trail, but it would kick the issue back to Congress, which could potentially pull out of the deal entirely. 

Supporters of the move say it could provide leverage to renegotiate the deal or have follow-on deals, and signal to Iran that the United States will not put up with other activities the United States sees as destabilizing but are not governed by the deal.

“Iran has a very high threshold for risk and pain,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t exact those risks and exact that pain.”

But supporters of the Iran deal say that decertification would lead to uncertainty that could ultimately unravel the accord.“He will trigger a process that very likely will lead to the collapse of deal,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. “In the last 37 years, the U.S. has only one example in which it has managed to significantly change an Iranian policy … Trump is now backing off the track that has been working and is opting to go down the path that has not worked.” 

Here’s what you need to know ahead of next week’s announcement. 

What is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action?

Officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal is a landmark accord between Iran, the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The deal was reached by the Obama administration in July 2015 after 20 months of negotiations, adopted in October 2015 and implemented in January 2016.

The agreement gave Iran billions in sanctions relief in exchange for Tehran placing limits on its nuclear program. Those limits include cutting its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water, capping the level of uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent and limiting uranium-enrichment activities to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges.

Several provisions of the deal eventually expire, including the restriction on the level of enrichment in 2030, the caps on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium 2028 and the limit to a single facility in 2025.

Supporters of the deal say it increases Iran’s so-called “breakout” time — the amount of time it would take Iran to develop enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon — and has successfully limited Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon without requiring the United States to fire a single shot. 

But opponents of the deal say it has several shortcomings. In particular, they fault the deal’s sunset provisions, as well as the fact that it does not address Iran’s other malign activities including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorist groups and proxies throughout the region. 

What is the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act?

The nuclear deal is not officially a treaty, meaning the Senate normally would not have been able to vote on it.

But to ensure Congress still had a voice in the matter, lawmakers passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) in May 2015. The bill passed overwhelmingly — 98 to 1 in the Senate, and 400 to 25 in the House.

INARA is what allowed Congress to vote on the accord in September 2015, which ended with Senate Democrats blocking a resolution of disapproval and allowing the deal to survive.

The other main provision in the bill is one that requires the president to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran remains in compliance with the deal and that sanctions relief remains in the national security interest of the United States.

If the president fails to certify, that sets off a 60-day clock on a fast-track procedure for Congress to vote to re-impose sanctions. In that 60 days, re-imposing sanctions would only need a simple majority, meaning Democrats could not filibuster.

During the Obama administration certifications came and went with little to no fanfare. But in the Trump administration, the deadlines have become a lightning rod for questions about Trump’s stance on a deal he once called “the worst deal ever negotiated,” as well as on his larger Iran strategy.

The next certification deadline is Oct. 15.

What will Trump do?

Trump has begrudgingly certified the deal twice before, as he and his national security team worked to develop a broader Iran strategy.

But this time around, all signs point to Trump decertifying the deal.

Just last month, Trump called the deal an “embarrassment to the United States,” adding that, “I don’t think you have heard the last of it.”

On Thursday night, he promised that an announcement on Iran would come “very shortly.” 

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