President Donald Trump may have a hard time “ripping up” the “disastrous” Iran nuclear deal, as he promised to do while campaigning.
Trump is expected to announce his decision to “decertify” the deal on Friday, according to various media reports. This move would essentially leave the deal in place, but make it a congressional decision whether to reimpose nuclear sanctions.
It would also theoretically allow Trump to distance himself from a deal brokered under President Barack Obama.
“It appears to be part of a ‘have your cake and eat it too’ strategy by the administration,” Philip H. Gordon, who coordinated Middle East policy in Obama’s National Security Council, told The New York Times.
Trump faces opposition to this decision on a number of fronts — within his own administration, inside a Republican controlled Congress, and from other world powers.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, and top national security aides have reportedly pressured Trump to recertify the Iran deal. Passed in 2015, the agreement must be recertified by the president every 90 days, as required by Congress.
Mattis has publicly broken with the president, telling Congress earlier this month he believes it is in the US national security interest to remain a party to the agreement. His testimony reveals why it might be tricky for Trump to leave the deal — there is no evidence that Iran has violated it. And breaking from an agreement that Iran hasn’t violated could hurt US credibility on the world stage at a time when world powers are trying to prevent North Korea from launching a nuclear strike.
“If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it,” Mattis said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 3. “I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.”
‘We must enforce the hell out of it’
It seems that by punting the decision to Congress, Trump may be saving the deal — even though every Republican in Congress opposed it at the time.
Now, it could become their duty to keep the deal and preserve international belief in American credibility. This could become increasingly important as the US seeks a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear testing.
“As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must enforce the hell out of it,” Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday.
Congressional Republicans have been trying to find ways to save the deal without Trump, Reuters reports, “including pushing for tougher inspections, changing the law requiring Trump to certify Tehran’s compliance, and setting new sanctions over Iran’s non-nuclear activities.”
In addition to this domestic manoeuvring to save the deal, several foreign countries that were involved have been pressuring Washington to maintain it.
The agreement is still strongly supported by co-signers Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China — the first three of which have argued to Congress that the deal cannot be undone.
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