Top Dem sees 'path forward' on Iran bill

Top Dem sees 'path forward' on Iran bill
© Keren Carrion

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday said he believes there is a “path forward” on Iran legislation, despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE making negotiations “more difficult” by issuing an ultimatum. 

“The bad news is that the way [Trump] presented it, the conditions, the ultimatum makes it much more difficult,” Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment More Dems come out in public opposition to Kavanaugh MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday. “I think there’s a path forward, but we've got to understand the last conversations between the administration and Europe first.”

On Friday, Trump announced he would once again renew waivers on sanctions that were lifted as part of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

But Trump pledged it would be the last time the waivers were renewed, unless European allies agree to a follow-on deal and Congress passes legislation to fill holes he sees with the nuclear accord. 

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“Despite my strong inclination, I have not yet withdrawn the United States from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said in a statement Friday. “Instead, I have outlined two possible paths forward: either fix the deal’s disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw.”

On the legislation, Trump issued four demands that must be part of the bill: a requirement for Iran to remain above a one-year breakout time to achieving a nuclear weapon, a demand that Tehran allow immediate inspections at all sites requested by international inspectors, an end to so-called sunset clauses by allowing the United States to immediately snap back sanctions if Iran restarts those activities and a statement in U.S. law that Iran’s nuclear and missile programs are “inseparable.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerBredesen says he won't back Schumer for Senate Dem leader GOP confidence grows on Kavanaugh Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week MORE (R-Tenn.) has been working with the administration and Cardin on a bill that seeks to heed Trump’s call for congressional action and update a law known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which allows for congressional oversight of the nuclear deal.

Asked Wednesday what the next step is after Trump’s decision Friday, Corker said only that he continues to work with Trump and Cardin.

“I talked with Ben yesterday,” Corker said. “I met with Trump, the president, yesterday on the topic, and we’re going to try to move ahead, and I’m expecting some language soon, and we’re moving ahead.”

Pressed on how soon legislative language would be ready, Corker smiled and repeated, “soon.”

Cardin, meanwhile, said he thinks the next step needs to be conferring with European allies.

“We had expected the president was going to come to us with a game plan that Europe would support; that was not the case,” he said. “We have to get a readout as to why it didn’t get to the place where I think the administration thought it was going to get to. And let’s see whether Sen. Corker and I can be helpful to get to where we all can be comfortable that what’s being asked of Congress does not violate the JCPOA, has the support of our European allies and can actually advance the objectives of the JCPOA to make sure that Iran never becomes a nuclear weapons state.”

Cardin also reiterated that he does not believe it’s appropriate for the bill to address banning Iran’s ballistic missiles.

“Ballistic missiles are really not part of the JCPOA, so, therefore, to put it in INARA is not the right fix,” he said. “And I’m not aware of a problem on imposing sanctions against Iran [for ballistic missiles]. We’ve already passed a bill, we want more, let’s do it, and Europe’s ready to join us.”