President TrumpDonald TrumpCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Netanyahu suggests Biden fell asleep in meeting with Israeli PM Aides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims MORE’s threat to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal is causing anxiety on Capitol Hill, including among GOP lawmakers who opposed the pact but fear there will be grave consequences from withdrawing.
Trump has sent mixed signals about what he will do after May 12, the next deadline to recertify what he on Tuesday derided as an “insane” and “ridiculous” agreement with Iran.
Republican lawmakers are divided over what Trump should do.
Some fear that pulling out of the deal would result in Iran accelerating its weapons programs. They also worry the move will alienate key U.S. allies and make it tougher for Trump to negotiate a nuclear deal with North Korea.
Trump hinted at a possible shift on Tuesday after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is lobbying to keep the United States in the deal.
“Nobody knows what I’m going to do on the 12th, although Mr. President, you have a pretty good idea,” Trump said to Macron at a joint press conference.
Macron replied with a wink.
While Trump slammed the Obama-era agreement, he also said he’s open to a new deal that strengthens and extends some of its terms.
That’s music to the ears of those Republicans who want Trump to stick with the deal and work with allies to improve it.
Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulWhite House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment MORE (R-Ky.) didn’t support the agreement, but said it doesn’t make sense for Trump to withdraw now.
“I think it’s a bad idea,” Paul said of quitting the accord, which the U.S. negotiated with France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union. “This was a multilateral deal, and the reason sanctions work against Iran is because we were unified in negotiating the deal.”
Paul argued that Iran has already reaped the economic benefits of sanctions being lifted. If the U.S. were to exit, he said, it would only make it tougher for international inspectors to monitor Iran’s nuclear program.
Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Capito grills EPA nominee on '#ResistCapitalism' tweet GOP senators unveil bill designating Taliban as terrorist organization MORE (R-W.Va.) didn’t support the agreement when the Obama administration negotiated it but worries about the fallout from the U.S. going back on its word.
“I do think there’s merit to being part of a group that’s heavily monitoring what’s going on and seeing certain developments,” she said. “And I think we have to pay close attention to what our allies are saying.
“I would tread lightly here if I were the president.”
Macron sounded an optimistic tone on Tuesday.
“It’s not a mystery we did not have the same starting positions,” he said. “I believe that the discussions we’ve had together make it possible to open the way, to pave the way for a new agreement.”
Macron signaled he wants to strengthen the existing deal, adding, “I’m not saying that we move from one agreement to another.”
While Trump appeared receptive to Macron’s message, he has changed his mind before after moving to a middle ground.
Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Of partisan fights and follies, or why Democrats should follow Manchin, not Sanders MORE (Calif.), for instance, thought they had a deal with the president to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after a meeting last year.
Trump also appeared to endorse universal background checks at a bipartisan summit on gun violence in February and then backed away from the idea.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) said he still thinks Trump will withdraw from the Iran deal.
“If no framework agreement with the three European countries is reached by May 12, he will pull out. That’s why you’re seeing Macron focus on it and Merkel, when she comes [to the U.S.], focus on it,” Corker said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet with Trump on Friday to hammer home the message that the United States shouldn’t let the agreement collapse.
“By the time those two meetings end, I hope they’ve reached a framework agreement,” Corker added. “I know that in the event that doesn’t happen, he’s going to pull out.”
One of Trump’s big complaints is that the nuclear curbs on Iran will eventually lapse.
Corker has told French and German officials that the deal would be improved significantly if the limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities were extended.
Another Trump complaint is that the deal did nothing to curtail Iran’s missile program, which poses a threat to Israel and other U.S. allies in the region.
Paul, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, notes that Iran has complied with its end of the deal, which does not include its ballistic missile program.
“The deal may not have been perfect, but thus far the Trump administration has acknowledged that Iran is adhering with the agreement,” Paul said. “I would suggest instead of pulling out of the agreement, negotiate another agreement that includes ballistic missiles.”
Republican lawmakers also warn that tearing up the Iran deal could make it tougher to negotiate a nuclear agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who would have reason to believe that the U.S. would not abide by the terms.
“That’s another thing,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), another member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Flake said he didn’t support the deal in the first place but warned that terminating it would only hurt U.S. interests.
“Iran has realized the benefits in terms of the money flows and increased trade. Now to relieve them of their obligations on the nuclear side would be concerning,” Flake said.
“I wouldn’t want to give Iran, basically, an easy way out, relieving them of their obligations on the nuclear side. Those are significant and they are complying,” he added.
Other Republicans are rooting for Trump to scrap the deal.
“I opposed this thing from the beginning. I oppose it now. Iran is like having a bad child in the classroom doing five bad things,” said Sen. Jim RischJim Elroy RischAides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims Lobbying world Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Idaho), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
He said the deal only addressed Iran’s nuclear program but not its support for terrorist groups, its development of a ballistic missile program that threatens Israel and other issues.
“You still got the bad child in the classroom doing four bad things,” Risch added.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Trump offers sympathy for those charged with Jan. 6 offenses MORE (R-S.C.) says he supports ending the deal because it gives Iran, a Shiite Muslim nation, an advantage over regional Sunni rivals who are U.S. allies.
“How do you tell the Arabs that they can’t enrich and reprocess [uranium] and allow the Iranians? That’s why it’s a terrible deal,” he said.