Decisive week for Trump on Iran deal

Several deadlines force him to decide whether to remain in nuclear accord

January 6, 2018 23:28
2 minute read.
Decisive week for Trump on Iran deal

US President Donald Trump walks from the Diplomatic Reception Room after speaking about the Iran nuclear deal at the White House in Washington, US, October 13, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump faces several deadline-driven decisions this week that will determine whether the US remains within the Iran nuclear deal. But a flurry of action on Capitol Hill may put the president off of any dramatic actions, for now.

Beginning on Friday, Trump must sign, or not sign, a series of waivers on the implementation of nuclear sanctions lifted by the US under the nuclear accord. Failure to sign those waivers – renewed every 120 days – would automatically reimpose sanctions on Iran and those conducting business with it overseas, effectively withdrawing Washington from the deal.

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US President Donald Trump says Iran has not lived up to spirit of nuclear deal, October 5, 2017. (Reuters)

After declining to “certify” Iran’s performance in the nuclear agreement in October, Trump will likely have to declare a second certification decision by January 11. Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian – the official adviser to the chamber on the interpretation of its standing rules and procedures – has not yet determined whether his first “decertification” lets him off the hook for future declarations. White House lawyers are unclear whether a second declaration would prompt another 60-day period in which Congress is legally required to consider reimposing sanctions.

Trump vociferously opposes the deal and promised to withdraw the US from it during his campaign for president. In October, he explained that his failure to certify Iranian implementation of the agreement to Congress was the first step in his strategy to either fix it or scrap it all together.

At that time, Trump challenged Congress to come up with legislative remedies for flaws he saw within the nuclear accord. A draft bill proposed by two Republicans sought to impose new terms onto the deal, sealed with Iran and five other international powers in 2015. But the legislation was staunchly opposed by America’s allies in Europe and uniformly by the Democratic caucus.

No action was taken for 90 days. But senior members of Congress now feel an urgency to act as soon as this week, fearful that Trump will impulsively pull out of the agreement when faced with a new slew of deadlines and no face-saving measure to fall back on.

“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Associated Press on Friday.

“We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Cardin of Maryland, respectively, together traveled to the White House last week to discuss such a fix. Tillerson told the AP that Trump is inclined to issue the waivers this week if he believes that progress is genuinely being made on the Hill toward legislation.

“I don’t want to suggest we’re across the finish line on anything yet,” Tillerson said.

Complicating matters, the president has sought to conflate nuclear-related sanctions with other sanctions that might be levied against the Islamic Republic over its human rights record, support for terrorism, and ballistic missile activity, amid a wave of unrest on the streets of Iran by anti-government demonstrators.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that his administration would be taking action “at the appropriate time.” Shortly thereafter, the US Treasury Department announced new ballistic missile sanctions, and warned that the Tehran government would soon be further sanctioned over the treatment of protesters.

Tehran has warned that the reimposition of nuclear sanctions under a different name would be treated as a violation of the nuclear deal.

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