Trump to decertify Iran nuclear deal

Trump to decertify Iran nuclear deal
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President Trump will decertify the Iran nuclear deal but not push Congress to reimpose sanctions on the country, top officials said ahead of his speech Friday. 

Instead, Trump will ask Congress to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which requires the president’s certification of the nuclear agreement every 90 days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters late Thursday at the White House. 

"The president has come to the conclusion that he can not certify under INARA that the sanctions relief that was provided is proportionate to and affect the benefit that we’re seeing from that agreement," Tillerson said. 

Trump by Sunday must tell Congress whether Iran remains in compliance with the Obama-era nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Congress created the certification deadline in INARA, which established a 60-day window for Congress to reapply sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the deal. 

Trump has certified the deal twice before, but this time around will instead suggest that Congress consider amending INARA "to put in place some very firm trigger points." If Iran crosses any such point, it would automatically impose sanctions, Tillerson said.

The "trigger points" are specific to Iran’s nuclear program as well as other actions the administration says are destabilizing, including the country’s ballistic missile program and support and funding of terrorist organizations.

Trump will also ask Congress to consider changing several sunset provisions that exist under the Iran deal.  

"What we really have is a countdown clock to when Iran can resume its nuclear weapons development program," Tillerson said. "That sounds an awful lot like some North Korean deals that we've seen in the past. So the president would also like to have the Congress deal with that expiring within INARA."

In addition, Trump will focus on denying funding for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), but not go so far as to label them a terrorist organization, according to Tillerson. 

Trump will direct the Treasury Department "to undertake under his executive orders additional actions for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s support of terrorist activity in the region."

The order will include targeted sanctions against individuals and entities owned or partially owned by the revolutionary guard that directly support terrorist activities. 

"We are in discussions with the European partners and others and we are seeking their concurrence that they too should sanction these activities if they have the same concerns," Tillerson said.

"They indicate they do have those same concerns. We are convinced that none of these new sanctions will in any way bring anyone in violation of their obligations for sanctions relief under the JCPOA because these sanctions are being imposed for non-nuclear activities," he added.

The idea, Tillerson said, is to give the United States leverage to negotiate a separate deal to eventually replace the Iran deal. 

"I think it helps us lay that groundwork for the successor deal and we’ve said all along, the clock’s ticking down," Tillerson said. "But part of this is we want to motivate the other signatories and Iran. Let’s start the engagement now. So that is one of the motivations."

Tillerson said the administration has a "notional draft of what the amendment would look like" that it has shared with lawmakers. The administration is hoping Congress would pass the INARA changes before the next certification deadlines comes up 90 days from Sunday. 

"If it takes longer than that, then there’s something I don’t understand about the deliberation," Tillerson said.  

Trump has repeatedly criticized the nuclear agreement, which lifted sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Tehran reducing its nuclear facilities, dubbing it “the worst deal ever.” 

On the campaign trail, he also frequently said he would tear up the deal or fix it.

But Tillerson said Trump has expressed little confidence that changes to the deal could be made.

"I think what we’re laying out here is this is the pathway we think provides us the best platform from which to attempt to fix this deal. We may be unsuccessful, we may not be able to fix it. And if we’re not then we may end up out of the deal," Tillerson acknowledged. 

"I think you’re going to hear that he’s not particularly optimistic but I think rather than just walk he's saying, 'alright, I'm willing to give it a try to see if we can address these issues that I think are deficiencies in the agreement,'" he said of Trump's thinking.

Many are doubtful the INARA changes will make it through Congress. The new rules would need 60 votes in the Senate, and Democrats are wary of Trump attempting to use Congress to unilaterally change the deal. 

In addition, U.S. allies in Europe are unlikely to reimpose their own sanctions, raising questions about the effectiveness of such a move.

But Tillerson said he has engaged with European leaders over the last several months on the issue and "everyone agrees there has to be something that comes next."

Tillerson touched on Trump’s feud with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a complicating factor in getting the INARA changes passed. 

As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Corker will greatly influence what the Senate decides to do.

"Chairman Corker has been supportive of the process from the beginning. He understands the strategy in terms of what we’re attempting to achieve," Tillerson said. 

“His name is on the inaugural bill. I think he feels a certain ownership for that bill. But he also has been very forthcoming with me to say, 'you're right, we put that in place for the prior administration, it was never intended to be put in place to tie your hands,'" he said of the conversations.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday accused Corker of being complicit in the deal, saying he "rolled out the red carpet" for it. 

Corker has since pushed back, with his office noting that Corker voted against the accord and instead insisted on passing the INARA to give Congress a say in the matter.