Trump's plan for Iran deal already imperiled as Democrats balk

To renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal, US President Donald Trump needs Congress.

US Senator Bob Menendez. (photo credit: REUTERS/EDUARDO MUNOZ)
US Senator Bob Menendez.
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s new strategy to renegotiate controversial provisions of the Iran nuclear deal relies on a change to a US law, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), which was written and passed on a bipartisan basis in 2015.
Trump wants that law amended in a way that would provide him leverage at the negotiating table, where he hopes to open up talks over a new agreement that addresses his biggest concerns with the nuclear accord.
According to his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the amendment would add “triggers” to the law that would “snap back” sanctions on Iran for behaviors that were not directly addressed by the nuclear agreement, such as its ballistic missile activity. Those triggers would be permanent, outliving clauses in the nuclear deal that expire, to the consternation of many.
But several other international parties to the nuclear deal – including Britain, France, Germany, the EU and Iran itself – have said that the agreement cannot be altered. On Friday, European powers warned Congress against proceeding with legislation that would seek to impose new terms. And Democrats are listening closely.
For this amendment to pass through Congress, Trump would need to secure 60 votes in the Senate. That would require Democratic votes. But the few Democratic senators who voted against the deal in 2015, when it was up for review before Congress, have already come out harshly criticizing the president’s plan.
“I strongly disagree with the president’s reckless, political decision and his subsequent threat to Congress,” said Sen.
Ben Cardin of Maryland, who was the author of INARA with Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, and who disapproved of the deal in 2015. “At a time when the world should be united in focusing on Iran’s bad actions, instead the president has opened up the United States to international criticism and challenge.
“Not even one year into his presidency, this is one of the most dangerous and consequential decisions the president has made imperiling US national security,” Cardin added.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, another Democrat who disapproved of the deal, said the move was reckless.
“Today’s decision to decertify under INARA was more about campaign promises and less about our national security interests,” Menendez said. “The United States cannot afford to ignore our international obligations, the importance of our multilateral diplomatic efforts in 2017, or the broader national security implications of diminishing our credibility on the international stage.”
Even the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, who nearly lost his place in party leadership for his opposition to the nuclear agreement, said it should be kept in place.
So too did the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, and Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, two Democratic lawmakers who voted against the agreement in 2015.
“The president’s plan doesn’t make sense,” Engel said. “Negotiating additional terms to the nuclear deal requires a coalition of international partners, not unilateral congressional action.”
With 60 votes virtually impossible to achieve in the 100-member Senate based on a total lack of Democratic support, Trump’s strategy got off on Friday to a faulty start. And even some Republicans questioned the wisdom of a plan that so deeply frustrated America’s allies.
“I am also eager to collaborate with our partners and allies to revisit the most problematic provisions of the nuclear deal, and support a unified, forceful international front in the event that Iran materially breaches the terms of the agreement,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which operates on a strict policy of supporting only bipartisan legislation, refrained from endorsing the president’s planned amendment in a statement on Friday.
“This is an important moment for Iran policy,” the Israel advocacy organization said. “AIPAC urges the administration and Congress to forge a comprehensive, bipartisan strategy to counter Iranian aggression and ensure Iran will never achieve a nuclear weapons capability.”