December 14, 2018 | ° F

ABDELFATAH: Trump should not decertify Iran deal

Opinions Column: Global Perspectives


It is becoming increasingly likely that the president will decertify the Iran deal. The White House is currently facing a deadline of Oct. 15 to certify to Congress that Iran is still in compliance with the deal. Should the administration choose to not certify the deal it will then be up to Congress to decide whether or not to reimpose sanctions on Iran.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran Deal, is an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany. Under this agreement, Iran agrees to severely curtail its nuclear activities in return for relief from nuclear-related economic sanctions. The agreement is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency which has maintained that Iran is holding up it’s end of the deal. It’s also important to note that while many of the grievances claimed by President Donald J. Trump against Iran are legitimate, they are not included in the deal and that the U.S. is already imposing sanctions on Iran to address them. The JCPOA focuses expressly on nuclear issues and only lifts sanctions related to the nuclear program. Meanwhile, decades-old sanctions over ballistic missile production and support for U.S.-designated terrorist groups remain in effect.

Congress requires that the administration certify that Iran is in compliance with the agreement every 90 days. Trump has already done so twice while signaling that he wouldn’t continue to do so in the future. His rhetoric as of late would suggest that he is seriously considering denying certification this time around. If he does it would then be up to Congress to decide whether or not to reimpose sanctions on the country. Even if Congress chooses not to reimpose sanctions, foreign investment in Iran will take a big hit. Investors will be worried by the possibility and begin to roll back their investments before Congress even makes their decisions. “Death by a thousand cuts” is how one official explained it to The New Yorker. “I’ve always thought that is the most likely way they kill the nuclear deal.”

Many experts have posited that ending the Iran deal could be an unnecessary national security risk. Should the president fail to certify compliance and Congress choose to reinstate sanctions Iran will undoubtedly resume its nuclear activities with no damage done to its international reputation but significant damage done to the United States. The fact that Iran was in compliance for the duration of the agreement will most likely cause U.S. allies to be hesitant to reinstate their own sanctions against the country, leading to a much-weakened sanctions regime. A nuclear Iran will put the U.S. in a position where it is dealing with two nuclear crises in two regions, and all with a severely understaffed diplomatic corps. Additionally, going back on this deal exacerbates the Korean nuclear crisis by sending a signal to Pyongyang that the U.S. isn’t willing to adhere to international agreements when it’s not politically expedient.

Several of the president’s top advisors have expressed their support for continued certification of the deal. Last week Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stated before the Senate Armed Services Committee that it was in our national security interest to remain part of the deal and that, “If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it … I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with.”

It’s entirely possible that, despite the president’s rhetoric, the administration will once again certify that Iran is in compliance with the deal. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’s followed the advice of his generals and gone against one of his campaign promises. The troop increase in Afghanistan is an excellent example of this. He’s also gone against the advice of senior advisors before. He pulled out of the Paris climate accords despite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s support for them and the advice of several Department of Defense officials that climate change was an issue of national security.

There seems to be little will among members of Congress to reinstate sanctions on Iran, even among those who opposed the deal in the first place. Democrats would almost certainly oppose doing so and even many Republicans seem to be on the fence. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a vocal opponent of the deal when it was first made, still opposes the initial deal but believes that now that it has been made it should be enforced. He’s joined in this opinion by other important GOP leaders such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Three Republican defections would kill any attempt to reimpose sanctions as they need 51 votes to do so.

In short, even if Trump were to decertify the deal it is unlikely that Congress would kill the deal and even if they did it would only serve to undermine U.S. interests.

Yousuf Abdelfatah is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science and economics. His column, "Global Perspectives" runs on alternate Thursdays.

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Yousuf Abdelfatah

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