National Security

Trump administration could imperil Iran deal

President Obama’s signature nuclear deal with Iran could be put in peril when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, nuclear policy experts and lobbyists say.

After Trump’s election on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rushed to tell his Cabinet that the deal “cannot be overturned by one government’s decision.”
{mosads}But both supporters and opponents of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), say that Republicans in control of the White House and Congress could take immediate steps to undermine the deal.
“They have a lot of options for how they want to undo the deal. They have two houses of Congress and a compliant president,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, who specializes in nonproliferation deals at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Trump repeatedly called the deal a “disaster” on the campaign trail, threatening to more strictly enforce the agreement or renegotiate it entirely. But an intense focus remains over the exact steps he might take as president.

“We’ll learn pretty early on whether his actions will match his most severe rhetoric against the deal,” said Dylan Williams, head lobbyist for the liberal advocacy group J Street that supports the deal.
Efforts to undo the deal could come at a steep diplomatic cost, legal experts say, but from a legal perspective none of the options would be difficult to enact.
The agreement to offer relief from international financial sanctions in exchange for new limits on Iran’s nuclear program isn’t a treaty and therefore isn’t binding from one administration to the next.
The relief granted to Iran in January 2016 was largely done through executive action, so Trump could easily withdraw the U.S. with the stroke of a pen.
Policy experts predict a withdrawal would undermine the deal’s strength in the international community and likely create backlash among U.S. allies who favor the deal.
The European Union, for example, is seen as benefitting from an increased ability to engage economically with Iran.

“Trump using the legal powers he has without concerning the political consequences strikes me as foolish,” said Danforth Newcomb, a sanctions lawyer at Shearman and Sterling.

A Trump administration could also declare Iran in violation of the terms of the deal, experts said, which would cause sanctions to snap back into place.

“If you wanted to be out of the deal 30 days after the inauguration, then you just declare [Iran] is in noncompliance,” Lewis said. “Literally on Day One, he could assert noncompliance and the clock starts ticking.”

Opponents of the deal have claimed Iran has violated the agreement by exceeding a so-called “soft limit” on certain sensitive material, but the Obama administration has declined to declare it a formal violation of the deal.
Trump would have to notify the U.N. Security Council that the U.S. believed Iran to be cheating. The Council would then have to vote affirmatively to maintain — or suspend — sanctions relief.
But the U.S. has veto power and could swiftly put an end to any attempt to maintain the relief. After a 30-day period, economic sanctions would be re-imposed.

At that point, Tehran would likely walk from the table, effectively killing the deal, experts say.

But like any unilateral executive action Trump might take to remove the U.S. from the deal, triggering the snapback provision comes with the same risk of political fallout in the E.U., observers say.

Trump could also let the GOP-led Congress lead the charge to scrap the agreement. Lawmakers could pass legislation imposing non-nuclear sanctions that are equally onerous to those relieved by JCPOA, potentially pushing Iran to walk away from the deal.
Leaders on Capitol Hill have long argued the deal has funneled billions of dollars to a country whose government actively supports terrorism. They also criticized the Obama administration, accusing officials of ignoring other hostile behavior on the part of Tehran during negotiations over the deal.
Republican lawmakers have already tried to advance myriad proposals aimed at penalizing Iran for its behavior in the Middle East.

The GOP-led House in the fall passed a trio of punitive bills. One measure would impose new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program; another would reinstate a program denying Iranian financial institutions access to U.S. dollars; a third would prohibit the U.S. from buying “heavy water” from Iran, a key component for some nuclear reactors.

Meanwhile, others have tried to use the renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), which expires in December and provides a framework for sanctions against firms doing business with Iran, as a mechanism to toughen penalties.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and four colleagues including Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), who opposed the nuclear deal, rolled out legislation that would renew the ISA while adding new sanctions. The additional penalties would target officials involved in Iran’s ballistic missile testing and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Democrats have proposed a simple 10-year extension for the ISA.
Though both supporters and opponents of the nuclear deal want to renew the ISA, some pro-deal advocates argue that the extension could deepen Iran’s doubts about whether the U.S. will uphold its end of the agreement.

The Obama White House has encouraged Capitol Hill to take its time with the bill, apparently in an attempt to push the fight back as far as possible. But that mediating influence will be gone under Trump, observers argue.

“Absent pressure from the Obama administration, Democrats will follow where their constituents lead and they will endorse Iran sanctions [on non-nuclear issues],” said a senior official at a D.C. organization that works with Congress on Iran issues.

Tags Bob Corker Bob Menendez Donald Trump Iran deal Joe Manchin Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Nuclear proliferation

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video