President Donald J. Trump announced that his administration will not certify Iran as being in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). His decision comes two days ahead of the crucial October 15 deadline.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, has not found evidence of Iran building a nuclear program that violates the deal. But in his announcement, President Trump said that Iran is not “living up to the spirit of the deal.”
The White House’s failure to certify compliance now gives U.S. Congress 60 days to reimpose economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic that were removed under the international agreement. This would effectively remove the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.
What is the Iran Nuclear Deal: JCPOA was signed in 2015 between Iran and a group of world powers composed of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany and the European Union, and commits Iran to redesign, convert, and reduce its nuclear facilities in return for a lifting of all nuclear-related economic sanctions.
International support for the deal
Aside from the U.S. and Iran, there are five other countries plus the EU signed onto the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. The future of the pact, however, is largely dependent on the participation of the U.S.
Iran’s foreign minister announced on September 28 that Iran could withdraw from the deal if the U.S does so first. The U.S. would violate the nuclear deal as soon as Congress reimposes economic sanctions on Iran.
The European countries who signed the JCPOA strongly support the agreement and have begun to strategize to preserve it. So far, the focus of Europe’s strategy has been on lobbying U.S. lawmakers. UK Prime Minister Theresa May personally called President Trump by phone on October 10 in hopes of convincing him to certify Iranian compliance.
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More than a nuclear issue for Trump
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, and other global organizations, continue to say that Iran is in compliance with JCPOA. Though European leaders acknowledge Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East may be a reason behind the Trump administration’s reluctance to honor any international treaty with the country.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on October 10, that “The U.S. president is critical — and justifiably so — of Iran’s behavior in the Middle East, from Yemen to Lebanon.” While Iran continues to abide by the nuclear agreement, German intelligence released a report stating that the Iranian military is pursuing advanced missile technology still banned under existing sanctions.
Before President Trump’s announced moving away from the JCPOA, his speech began with an oral history of how Iran has participated in terror attacks against the U.S. since the 1980s.
“The regime harbored high level terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel. The Iranian dictatorship’s aggression continues to this day,” said President Trump in a scripted speech.
President Trump did not mention the nuclear pact until six minutes in the 19 minute speech. “[JCPOA] also gave the regime an immediate financial boost, over $100 billion dollars it’s government could use to fund terrorism.”
Dissent within the White House
President Trump has repeatedly criticized the Iran nuclear deal as having lax enforcement mechanisms and being poorly negotiated on the behalf of U.S. interest. Not everyone in his administration agrees in scrapping JCPOA
Secretary of Defense James Mattis openly supports the U.S. remaining in the multilateral agreement. He testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he believed that Iran was “fundamentally in compliance with its nuclear deal”.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has criticized the deal in the past, he specifically took aim at sunset clauses, which allow restrictions on uranium enrichment to expire after 2025. Yet he continues to support legislation that would keep U.S. in the multilateral agreement.
Once President Trump decertifies Iranian compliance, Congress will have 60 days to pass sanctions, ending U.S. participation in JCPOA.