2017-10-25 / Home

What does the future hold for the nuclear deal with Iran?

By RON KAMPEAS JTA

WASHINGTON—

President Donald Trump has said what he wants Congress to do with the Iran nuclear deal, which he has called the worst in the world: Make it better.

How does that happen? Is it possible to “fix” the deal without breaking it?

Here’s a breakdown of what Trump wants, what might happen and where the Jewish organizations, many who were fierce opponents of the original deal, are on the issue.

WHAT TRUMP WANTS

The 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration, the European Union, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China with Iran traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. Trump can leave the deal whenever he wants: All he has to do is stop waiving—that is, restore—the sanctions removed by the deal.

Top security advisers have talked Trump out of that option, saying it could damage the U.S. reputation. Instead, they have counseled him to decertify Iranian compliance with the agreement under a 2015 law passed by Congress as a means of overseeing the deal: The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA.

Under the act, once Trump decertifies—he said he would do that in a White House speech—Congress has 60 days to reimpose sanctions. But the White House is not asking Congress to reimpose the sanctions. Rather the president wants new legislation, through an amended INARA or through a new law that would effectively reshape the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Trump wants the new laws to override provisions of the deal, including the so-called sunset clauses that lift restrictions and allow Iran to enrich fissile material beginning within the next decade. Trump wants a law that would keep U.S. sanctions in place should Iran remove the restrictions, even though the sunset clauses allow them to do so.

Trump said in outlining the policy that if he’s not happy with the outcome, he would pull out of the deal.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, CONGRESSIONAL VERSION

Two prominent Republicans in the U.S. Senate, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Bob Corker of Tennessee, are shaping legislation according to Trump’s specifications.

“The legislation automatically reimposes sanctions if Iran’s nuclear program violates certain restrictions,” a draft summary said. “These restrictions remain in force indefinitely, effectively ridding the JCPOA of its sunset provisions as they apply to U.S. sanctions; bolster IAEA verification powers; and limit Iran’s advanced centrifuge program.”

Enacting the bill as it stands now is unlikely. Advancing the legislation requires 60 backers in the Senate, as none of the 48 Democrats in the body of 100 are likely to get on board. Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said as much, referring to statements by Trump’s top military advisers, who oppose killing the deal despite its flaws.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, INTERNATIONAL VERSION

The likelier way forward would involve not Congress but U.S. allies who signed on to the deal. This would involve increasing pressure on Iran outside the context of the nuclear deal, which Trump could claim as an improvement.

The three European governments that signed the deal released a statement saying they opposed rupturing the pact, but were eager to squeeze Iran for its other malign activities, including missile testing and military adventurism.

WHERE IS THE PRO-ISRAEL CAMP?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is enthusiastic about Trump’s proposal, especially the prospect of killing the deal outright should the Iranians not play ball. Among international leaders, only the Saudis share Netanyahu’s enthusiasm.

“I believe that any responsible government, and whoever seeks to promote peace and security in the world, needs to take advantage of the opportunity that President Trump’s decision has created in order to improve the agreement or abrogate it and, of course, stop Iran’s aggression,” the Israeli leader said in remarks opening his weekly Cabinet meeting.

The centrist pro-Israel community is less sanguine. Like Schumer and other Democrats who opposed the original deal, there is a sense among pro-Israel groups that breaching the deal would damage America’s ability to affect Iranian behavior by reducing U.S. credibility among allies.

Instead, the major groups urged collaboration by Congress, the administration and U.S. allies to address flaws while keeping the deal intact.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee welcomed Trump’s speech, but emphasized that he was not proposing ending the deal, at least for now.

J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, urged Congress to reject any attempt to amend the deal. 

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