Corker, Cotton to propose bill changing Iran deal oversight

Corker, Cotton to propose bill changing Iran deal oversight
© Greg Nash

A pair of top Republicans unveiled a plan Friday to carry out President Trump’s expected directive to change a law that requires him to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal every 90 days.

The bill, from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senators condemn 'vulgar' messages directed at Collins over Kavanaugh GOP turns its fire on Google Overnight Defense: Trump denies report he's looking at Mattis replacements | Inhofe officially gets Armed Services gavel | Trump revives shutdown threat MORE (R-Ark.), is intended to address issues they see in the nuclear deal itself, according to a fact sheet from Corker’s office.

“As the administration become more and more frustrated with the certification process, they became more and more interested in looking at this approach,” Corker told reporters on a conference call Friday. “Over the last, let’s say, 90 days, especially since the last certification, there’s been intense discussions with the administration.”

Trump is expected to announce Friday that the 2015 deal between the U.S., Iran and five other global powers is no longer in the United States' national interest.

That decertification sets off 60-day clock during which Congress can use a fast-track procedure to reimpose sanctions lifted under the deal.

But Trump is expected not to push Congress to take that step. Instead, he’s expected to push Congress to change the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

The law was passed by Congress in 2015 as an oversight mechanism. Because the nuclear agreement is not a treaty, Congress would not have had a say in the deal otherwise.

Under the changes being proposed by Corker and Cotton, sanctions would be automatically reimposed if Iran comes within a year of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The change is meant to address the sunset provisions of the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, one of opponents’ main concerns.

Asked Friday what will define what a one-year breakout time is, Corker said that will be worked out in the committee process but won’t be subjective. 

He also said the bill will go through the regular committee process in which members of both parties will be able to make changes. 

“You’re going to see all this evolve in daylight,” he said. “Let us work us work it through the normal processes and let other senators on both sides of aisle weigh in.”

The bill’s chances of passage are unclear. Democrats, who have enough seats to block legislation in the Senate, in recent days have criticized the expected approach as the administration attempting to unilaterally change an international agreement.

Asked about those objections, Corker said that he and Cotton have “taken pains to ensure that we are in no way are altering the JCPOA.”

Further pressed on how it is not a violation to impose sanctions on activities Iran will be allowed to undertake once those provisions of the deal sunset, Corker defended the approach.

“What we’re saying is we’re freezing — we’re going to abide by the agreement, but we also are going to freeze in place the limitations that are there,” he said. “But it’s not a violation of the JCPOA.”

In addition to snapping back sanctions on Iran, the bill would change the certification requirement to be every six months instead of every 90 days. It would also require a broader look at Iran’s activities, including its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests.

“It’s very fluid, but the current position at 11:53 now is that it would apply to the ICBM component, OK, not what I would call more standard ballistic missile testing,” he said. “I’m sure that’s going to be an issue that will be debated as we move through the committee process onto the floor.”    

Another complicating factor is Corker’s feud with Trump. The bill was crafted in consultation with the administration, but it’s unclear if the current tensions will affect Corker’s ability to play mediator between the administration and Congress.

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story Rubio defends Haley over curtains story: Example of media pushing bias MORE told reporters Thursday that Corker feels “a certain ownership” of the bill.

“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.’ ”

- This story was updated at 12:38 p.m.