Trump, Nikki Haley can punish Iran without ending nuclear deal

Trump, Nikki Haley can punish Iran without ending nuclear deal
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According to reports, UN Amb. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley: 'Open question' if US athletes will attend Olympics amid North Korea tensions Haley: Trump isn't deciding who controls east Jerusalem Emergency UN Security Council meeting called after Trump's Jerusalem announcement: report MORE suggested Congress might have a role in having the final say on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. She found a way for President Trump to say Iran is not complying without immediately killing the accord. Just as he punted the ball to Capitol Hill on the “Dreamers,” Haley is allowing Trump to do likewise on the nuclear deal.

Although the president has said Tehran is technically abiding by its commitments, Haley raised critical issues about the accord. By doing so, she gave Trump support if he decides to decline certifying Tehran in the future. According to reports, on the afternoon of Sep. 14, the president extended sanctions relief to Iran, avoiding imminent action that might implode the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. 

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One possible downside of failing to certify is it might set in motion another nuclear crisis alongside the one with North Korea. Another consequence is that it might cause a rift with key allies. French President Emmanuel Macron already said there was no alternative to the nuclear deal. Despite risks, the Haley option of allowing Trump to say Iran is not complying without killing the accord is the optimal choice.

Stories behind the Story

In an email sent to his list on Aug. 16, Omri Ceren, senior adviser at the Israel Project, discussed two “buckets” about whether Trump will decertify the Iran deal in October.

Bucket one is about policy: There are arguments for why the president would be substantively justified in decertifying. Trump has said Iran’s behavior justifies decertification, which could be done based on any of four conditions in the relevant Corker-Cardin law.

Bucket two is about politics: Trump might not decertify, despite substantive justifications. Per several reports, Iran deal advocates inside the State Department have launched multiple, open-ended initiatives around the deal, allowing them to argue decertification is diplomatically premature.

This AP story is a “bucket one” story, about Iran’s behavior for decertification. The nuclear accord triggers two Corker-Cardin conditions of decertification. The first requires a president to certify “Iran is transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement, including all related technical or additional agreements.” A related agreement is UNSCR 2231. It locked in the Iran accord at the UN and calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The Obama administration considered ballistic missile development “inconsistent with and “in defiance of” the resolution. But the Trump State Department described a December 2016 launch as a full-blown “violation” of the resolution. The Obama administration assumed the Iran deal would modify Tehran’s behavior in the direction of becoming more moderate over time, per VOA. Yet that appears not to be the case as the AP suggests that money is being funneled to Iran’s ballistic missile and terrorist activities, opposite U.S. national interests.

In a pushback against U.S. sanctions on Iran, AP reported that Tehran’s parliament voted on Aug. 13 to increase spending on its ballistic missile program and operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, (IRGC), a sanctions bill mirroring a new U.S. law targeting Iran.

While Washington offered hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for infrastructure projects and related nonmilitary ones, Tehran used America’s own tactics against it.

Iran’s parliament bill includes banning visas for U.S. officials involved with the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI); the largest unit is People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI)/Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). Prominent U.S. lawmakers, former military officials, and politicians have met with the NCRI and spoken at its rallies.

For instance, I spoke at a rally of 2,000 NCRI members in Albania on Sep. 5, and plan to speak at a rally against Iran’s President Rouhani on Sep. 20, to conduct interviews, which the author also conducted in Tirana. I interviewed incoming PMOI/MEK Secretary General Zahra Merrikhi and queried her about her pledge to bring freedom to Iran. Also interviewed was Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI, about her goal to break the spell of repression and herald regime change from within Iran.

Certification

Corker-Cardin is the 2015 legislation establishing congressional oversight over the Iran deal. There also is a draft UNSC Resolution Amb. Haley said Iran has been violating.

Trump is required to recertify the deal every 90 days. The next deadline is October 15. Trump also needs to decide soon whether to keep extending sanctions relief to Iran. President Obama first began the process of waiving the sanctions in mid-January, and President Trump reluctantly continued to do so in May, 2017.

Trump might decertify Iran but still waive sanctions, which places the onus on Congress to have the final word. In his email, Ceren discussed this new argument with several Trump administration officials.

Citing Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Ceren emailed his list:

“There may have been a debate over whether or not the resolution counts but now, ‘…case closed.’

“The president would be openly lying to Congress if he certified that Iran met the Corker-Cardin requirements.

“Amb. Haley sets ‘the predicate’ for the president to decertify and roll out a ‘pressure and fix’ campaign while signaling to Congress that now may not be the opportune time to reinstate sanctions and take America out of the deal.”

Human Rights Violations & Review of Iran Policy

To move forward, first, penalize Iran with new sanctions on ballistic missile production, testing, and proliferation, as well as state-sponsored terrorism and human rights violations. In 1988, Tehran executed up to 30,000 political prisoners, and tried to hide their bodies. Most of them were NCRI members.

Second, Amb. Haley should state at the UN that these human rights violations are a part of Iran’s ignoble history. Trump’s tasking of his National Security Council staff to review Iran policy should take into account such human rights violations by Tehran.

Third, Trump’s review of Iran policy should take into account Tehran’s reactions to NCRI revelations of human rights violations.

Keep in mind, the louder Tehran screams, the more likely it is the regime is duplicitous.

Dr. Raymond Tanter, @Americanchr, served on the senior staff of the Reagan National Security Council from 1981-82 and was personal representative of the Secretary of Defense to security talks in Europe, 1983-84. Tanter is currently a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.