Will President Trump end the Iran deal?

 In World

What’s going on with the Iran nuclear deal?

The 2015 agreement between Iran, the United States and the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and the European Union is in trouble. On the campaign trail, President Trump promised repeatedly to rip up the deal, which is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and is likely to “decertify” it in the days ahead. Does that pull the U.S. out of the deal?

It does not. Under a law passed by the Senate in 2015, the president must certify that Iran is in compliance with the deal, which is aimed at curbing that country’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, every 90 to 120 days. The next deadline is on Oct. 15, and after grudgingly saying that Iran is in compliance with the deal twice since taking office, Mr. Trump has signaled that he’s done signing off on it.

In practice, decertification throws the issue to Congress, which will have 90 days to figure out if new sanctions should be passed. The administration hopes this will give it time to come up with a supplemental agreement that would “fix” problems with the current deal. The hope is that, by threatening sanctions, other parties to the deal such as France, Russia, and China will be open to allowing a new round of negotiations.

Mr. Trump last month said he had “decided” what to do on the Iran deal, although he wouldn’t say what his decision was. Even his own secretary of State, Rex Tillerson — who has been under fire lately for reportedly calling the president a “moron” — said he was unaware of the president’s next move. 

Why has Trump been so dead-set against the Iran deal?

Mr. Trump has called the Iran deal perhaps the worst deal the U.S. has ever made. To him, it represents yet another piece of bad Obama-era policy. As was the case with the Paris climate agreement, the president is under pressure to back out of a deal he criticized so relentlessly. Mr. Trump spent a chunk of his speech at his first-ever UNGA meeting attacking the Iran regime, and given all his criticism of the deal this far, it would be difficult politically for him to do nothing about it now. Mr. Trump sees the deal as something that gives Iran too much leeway, for too little guarantee against a nuclear stockpile in return. 

What are these problems with the Iran deal?

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, laid out his criticisms of the original deal in a Council on Foreign Relations speech last week. The first issue is the “sunset provisions” that steadily allow the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to expire. When those provisions expire, he fears Iran will be stronger than ever. Cotton argued that, “by 2030 at the latest, Iran will be able, while fully complying with this deal, to reach nuclear breakout in a matter of weeks.” Cotton wants more limits on Iran’s ability to research and develop centrifuges, more restrictions on Iran’s robust ballistic missile programs, and to allow for more inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Critics of the Iran deal, including U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, believe these issues can be addressed after the deal is decertified.

If Iran doesn’t play along, what does Cotton propose?

A solution Cotton has proposed entails so-called “surgical” military air strikes that don’t escalate into full-scale war but deal a critical blow to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Cotton says the U.S. has the ability to take out Iran’s entire nuclear program, and shouldn’t be afraid to take military action, if necessary. 

What’s the argument against decertification?

Some proponents of keeping the deal intact say decertification essentially gives Congress a gun in the hopes that they don’t pull the trigger. Should Congress pass new sanctions, that’s the end of the deal. And if the deal ends, Iran will be in a much stronger position to restart its nuclear weapons program. 

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