Defense

Trump changes to Iran deal face criticism from both sides

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The Senate has a difficult path to walk if it is going to pass changes to the Iran nuclear deal demanded by President Trump to stave off a U.S. withdrawal from the agreement.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have unveiled plans to enact Trump’s proposals, but their legislation would need 60 votes — including support from at least eight Democrats — to pass the chamber.

{mosads}Democrats are vowing not to vote for anything that amounts to the United States unilaterally rewriting the international agreement. Meanwhile, some Republican Iran hawks are indicating the changes do not go far enough and that they would rather scrap the deal altogether.

For now, senators in both parties are noncommittal, saying they are awaiting the bill text before making a final judgment.

“We will look at specific suggestions, but I will not support anything that violates the JCPOA,” Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said, using the acronym for the formal name of the nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

The Obama-era deal negotiated by the United States, Iran, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany provided Tehran billions in sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

Trump’s decision Friday to certify that Iran is no longer in compliance with the deal set off a clock for Congress to quickly reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the accord. But rather than press for that, Trump asked Congress to pass legislation to fix issues he sees with the deal itself.

If Congress doesn’t act, Trump threatened to withdraw from the deal. On Monday, he added that he thinks that’s the more likely outcome.

“Phase two might be positive, and it might be very negative,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting. “It might be a total termination. That’s a very real possibility; some would say that’s a greater possibility. But it could also could turn out to be very positive. We’ll see what happens.”

Trump will face another deadline on the future of the Iran deal in January — the next time he’ll have to decide whether to continue waiving sanctions lifted as part of the agreement.

Responding to Trump’s call for legislation, Corker and Cotton unveiled a plan Friday to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). Their proposal aims to effectively eliminate the nuclear deal’s so-called sunset provisions by snapping back sanctions if Iran restarts activities it agreed not to engage in, even after the provisions expire. 

Corker and Cotton have released a fact sheet on the proposal, but not the bill text.

Corker acknowledged that corralling Democratic support for the proposal would be difficult. But he put the onus on the administration, saying it needs to get the international community on board with the plan, which would get Democrats to support it.

“The first step that has to happen is the administration really has to engage our European allies,” Corker said. “Nothing’s going to happen in this legislative body without that occurring. And so secretary of state, the administration, has got to bring our allies in or almost no Democrat is going to support legislation dealing with this.”

Corker added that there’s no rush to get the bill done, saying Congress “is not succumbing to artificial deadlines” such as January.

Several Democrats this week stressed the importance European allies will have on their stance.

“We’re going to have to have the support of Europe,” said Cardin, who voted against the agreement in 2015. “I heard Sen. Corker reinforced that today that we need European support, so we’ll wait and see what is done. Obviously, I want to make sure the we act in the national security interest to protect the United States and make sure Iran complies with the agreement.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he doesn’t see Democrats supporting anything rejected by Europe.

“The bottom line is I don’t think there’s going to be Democratic support for changing the terms of the deal, nor for doing anything that our European partners aren’t on board with,” he said. “I haven’t seen their bill, so it’s hard for me to understand whether it changes the terms of the deal or whether it’s something the Europeans would support.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), also a member of the committee, said she thinks it will be “very challenging” to change what was “the best possible agreement” negotiated with the international community.

But even if Democrats get on board, some Republican Iran hawks could defect and doom the proposal.

One of the Senate’s staunchest Iran hawks, Cotton, is a coauthor of the proposal.

But others are indicating that they believe it does not go far enough.

Immediately after Trump’s announcement on Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) released a statement saying he has “serious doubt” the Iran deal could be fixed, adding that leaving the deal as-is may be better for U.S. national security.

Still, Rubio added that he is reserving judgment until actual legislation is presented.

On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) likewise said he needs to see the bill text before making a decision. But he added he thinks the next step after decertification should be a full reimposition of sanctions.

Pressed further on if his support for restoring sanctions means he thinks the Corker-Cotton bill does not go far enough, Cruz repeated that he needs to see the text.

“The next step, I believe, should be reimposing sanctions in full,” Cruz said. “The Obama Iran deal was spectacularly dangerous when signed, and it remains so. It remains a framework that only facilitates Iran’s developing nuclear weapons, and I believe we should use every tool at our disposal — diplomatic, economic and, if need be, military — to ensure that under no circumstances is Iran allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Corker Chris Murphy Jeanne Shaheen Marco Rubio Ted Cruz Tom Cotton
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