Europe Looks to Congress in Fight to Save Iran Nuclear Pact
But the Europeans argue that none of these issues are covered in the agreement, which was specifically limited to Iran’s nuclear program; they are instead subject to separate sanctions.
Mr. Trump cannot wreck the nuclear deal with a stroke of the pen. If he refuses to certify it, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions. Even if that happens, a dispute resolution process written into the deal provides another month before it is clear that the United States is no longer a party to an agreement accepted by its main allies, the rest of the United Nations Security Council and Iran.
Traditionally, opposition to Iran runs deep in Congress, even among many Democrats. But there are indications that Congress has little appetite to reimpose sanctions, and analysts have said that if Mr. Trump quietly asks Republican hawks on Iran, like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to hold off, they probably would.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis came out publicly on Tuesday in favor of sticking with the deal, while saying that Iran continued to support terrorism and was failing to comply with what he called “the spirit” of the agreement. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson also supports the agreement, though his differences with President Trump have exploded into view lately.
Reports in Washington nevertheless suggest that Mr. Tillerson and others around the president are working on a plan under which Mr. Trump would decertify Iran, but Congress would not reimpose sanctions. After that, Congress would rescind the current law requiring Mr. Trump to issue an opinion on Iran’s compliance every 90 days.
Instead, the administration would work with Congress and the Europeans to toughen other sanctions against Iran for its other troublesome activities, including new sanctions against its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, headed by hard-line military commanders and an important economic driver of the Iranian economy.
Mr. Tillerson floated the idea to European counterparts at the United Nations last month, a meeting the Europeans orchestrated so that China spoke first of its support for retaining the deal, and then Russia, before the Europeans did.
The agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was signed in July 2015 by the five permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain – plus Germany; the European Union led the negotiations and did a lot of the legwork.