Trump is expected to refuse to recertify the Iran nuclear deal. What would that mean?
Trump has indicated he will declare that the agreement the Obama administration and five other world powers reached with Iran in 2015 to suspend its nuclear program is not sufficiently strong to benefit “U.S. national security interests.” Iran should no longer be seen as in compliance with the accord, Trump is expected to say.
His judgment is shared by a number of conservative organizations and members of Congress. Many others, including several of his top Cabinet officials, most European diplomats and the United Nations, disagree with him and say the deal is working.
What impact would refusal to certify have?
Refusing to certify is not the same as withdrawing completely from the deal. It would not automatically reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. That is because the requirement to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal every 90 days is written into U.S. law and is not part of the international agreement.
With two tracks, Trump can do both: continue to attack the deal without officially voiding it.
The refusal to certify kicks the issue to Congress, opening a 60-day period for debate. The official deadline for certification is Oct. 15, although some White House sources have suggested Trump would act before that.
What would Congress do?
When the deal was being negotiated, a majority in Congress opposed it. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unprecedented appearance before a joint meeting of Congress to denounce the deal and what he described as the dangers posed by Iran, going around the White House to oppose one of President Obama’s top priorities.
Nonetheless, Congress allowed the deal to take effect, approving a compromise that included the certification requirement.
Today, opinion is more divided. Even among some lawmakers who have criticized the deal in the past, such as Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, there is a feeling that sticking with it, however flawed, is far better than blowing it up. The deal at least sustains control over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, they argue, at a time when tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea are at a fever pitch.
Backers of the deal worry that hard-line opponents could use the 60-day period to “snap back” into place nuclear-deal economic sanctions on Iran that were removed as part of the agreement.
Others, however, say that refusal to certify (often incorrectly described as “decertification”) would be the first step in strengthening the agreement and putting greater controls on Tehran.
What did the Iran deal do?
In exchange for getting rid of most of its centrifuges, disabling its plutonium-producing heavy water reactor at Arak and agreeing to regular inspections, Iran received considerable sanctions relief: readmittance to the international banking system, permission to trade on the oil market and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in overseas assets.
How do we know the deal is working?
We don’t, with total certainty.
However, the U.N. watchdog charged with monitoring Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency, has repeatedly said the country is complying with the technical aspects of the deal. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano reiterated that assessment again this week.
Most parties to the deal — Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, as well as the European Union — accept that judgment.
Why does the Trump administration say Iran is in violation?
Regardless of its technical compliance with the terms of the agreement, few would disagree that Iran is guilty of other behavior in the region that the U.S. labels as destabilizing, including the testing of ballistic missiles and support for militant groups in several countries.
Those sorts of acts, which don’t involve nuclear development, were not covered by the agreement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has supported sticking with the deal, has said he believes Tehran violates its “spirit” by continuing to promote destabilizing actions in the region.