Iran deal's foes in US Congress may be its unlikely saviors

President Trump reportedly wants to return the U.S. to the level of nuclear weapons stockpiled in the 1960s

President Trump reportedly wants to return the U.S. to the level of nuclear weapons stockpiled in the 1960s

He also must decide whether the deal is still in the national interest of the U.S. Trump said Wednesday he will announce his decision "very soon", without specifying what that decision is or when it would come.

However, with the agreement in place and strongly supported by co-signers Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, many Republicans who still abhor the pact nevertheless do not want to blow it up for fear that doing so would erode US credibility. Under the deal, which started being implemented in January 2016, Iran undertakes to limit its nuclear activities and allow transparent global control of its nuclear program. The route Mr. Trump wants to take to do so is by de-certifying the deal, which he may do next week.

This is a dumber option because it is exactly what the Obama administration wanted and what Hillary Clinton would have pressed for if she had won the election: protecting the JCPOA by dropping the prospect of new sanctions, doing away with the certification requirement and answering criticism of the deal by engaging in endless talks with Iran and European diplomats to fix the agreement.

Representative Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Trump administration should preserve the deal to protect United States national security, even though he opposed the deal at the time.

On the other hand, some argue decertification and the possibility of USA sanctions on Iran might win support from the Europeans. Iran has said it may exit the deal if the US withdraws.

Trump allies who oppose the deal have watched the president closely to see if he might buckle under pressure. Under a new version being negotiated with Congress, he would have to endorse the deal less frequency but the USA intelligence community would have to assess whether Iran is carrying out covert activity in facilities not visited by the IAEA.

"I expect President Trump will not certify it", said Elizabeth Rosenberg, an Iran expert at the Center for a New American Security, a progressive think tank. It also reported the announcement would probably be Friday and that the administration doesn't want to scrap the deal entirely and proposed a legislative remedy. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., would demand that the intelligence community produce judgments on a wide range of Iranian behavior that is not covered by the nuclear deal, including ballistic missile testing and development and threats to Israel and the Mideast more broadly.

The other signatories to the JCPOA - the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, have said it is not realistic to try to renegotiate its terms.

"There is no technical nor political space to renegotiate this deal", Federica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told PBS Wednesday. If those sanctions are put back into place, the JCPOA would be considered breached.

However, they do not believe he will go beyond that and call for Congress to reinstate nuclear sanctions that were lifted as a result of the deal. But again, none of that is likely since the USA would be essentially tearing up the agreement and taking the blame for whatever comes next.

She noted that the worldwide community, including the European Union and other USA allies, will continue to abide by the deal even if Trump chooses not to certify Iran's compliance, something which has been confirmed eight times by the global Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Europeans seem more inclined to try to "build" on the deal in this way. The IAEA certified in its latest quarterly report on August 31, 2017, that Iran has complied with the JCPOA and that its stock of low-enriched uranium and centrifuges for enrichment are in line with the nuclear pact.

What exactly that will look like is still being determined, but it could include greater congressional oversight.

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