Congress just might unleash Iran's nuclear program

Congress just might unleash Iran's nuclear program
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When President Trump declares this week, as anticipated, that the Iran nuclear deal is not in America’s interest, he’ll actually be saying one thing and doing another. This is because in a quirk, Congressional legislation requires the president to certify the deal but gives the power to terminate it to Congress, as it must then vote on whether to re-impose nuclear sanctions that will kill the deal.

So Congress now gets to deal with the consequences of its own legislation. And President Trump gets to say he didn’t end the deal, even though he’s laying the groundwork for its actual disintegration.

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While this may be cute politics, it puts America and our allies in direct harm by providing an excuse for Iran to reconstitute its currently dormant nuclear program.

Let’s be clear about the facts on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is not a country that we can trust. That’s why we have the nuclear agreement — because it locks down Iran’s nuclear program and has vigorous international oversight to guarantee it.  

And it’s clear that the Iran deal is working as intended and protecting us from another country developing a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency says so. Our country’s military leaders say so too.

President Trump’s top security officials, including Secretary of Defense Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dunford have publicly stated that Iran is not in breach of the actual agreement. And National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster is reportedly in agreement with them. Not to mention the Israeli security establishment, our nuclear allies and negotiating partners in Britain and France, and the other parties to the agreement, such as China, Russia, and Germany.  

These players know what comes next when we decertify and terminate the deal: an unleashed Iranian nuclear program, American isolation from our allies, and an increased risk of an unnecessary war to stop a nuclear weapons program that’s already stopped.

President Trump has a lot of history with the Iran deal, much of it before he became Commander in Chief. He has never liked it. He hasn’t liked how it didn’t address Iran’s support for terrorism, it’s ballistic missile development, it’s regional expansion, and its violations of human rights.

These are legitimate criticisms of our policy towards Iran. But taking away the pressure on Iran by undermining this deal will not strengthen our hand in getting closer to resolving these issues. It will only make it harder because our allies won’t trust our word and Iran will point that out at every turn.

Trump is in a bind. He wants to prove that the deal isn’t good for America, not go so far as to blow it up, and promise to fix its flaws while he needs our allies to do so. Yet by playing politics with our national security, he’s likely to get nothing.

Instead, we may very well end up with a terminally wounded deal that both unleashes Iran's nuclear program and undermines the diplomatic credibility we need to get Iran to agree to the improvements we want. And Trump and Congress will just be having a conversation amongst themselves -- not with those who can make the deal stronger: our allies and the Iranians.

Americans deserve better on questions of nuclear war and peace. Unfortunately, that’s not what they’re about to get.

Joel Rubin is a former deputy assistant secretary of State for Legislative Affairs and a visiting fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Public Policy and Management.