White House aides have reportedly been imploring President Trump to remain in the Iran deal, limiting its nuclear ambitions. As of yesterday, Trump has announced that he will not certify the deal.
According to the agreement signed in 2015 by President Obama and five other countries, Trump has the ability to certify that Iran is either in compliance or not. By electing not to do so, Trump is kicking the issue over to Congress. This forces Congress to impose more sanctions on Iran, or do nothing at all. Hitting Iran with sanctions would certainly cause a diplomatic row, which Congress surely wants to avoid right now.
Making Congress Step Up to the Plate
President Trump has made his opinions on the deal clear, yet he has until October 15th to make a decision. The Iran deal is yet another issue that Trump has essentially punted into Congress’ lap. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the U.N. climate change pact. This would be an incredibly complicated process, but Congress, through international pressure, could be compelled to the keep the U.S. in the pact.
From a messaging standpoint, this is a win for Trump. The President has always harped that he thought it was a bad deal for the U.S. His “decertification” might end up being more symbolic than anything else. This decertification is really just a notification from the White House to Congress, with no real legal standing. Therefore, Trump can claim to his base that he torpedoed the deal without there having been any effect at all.
It does force Congress to act if it follows the President’s wishes. It must either impose new sanctions, or use this opportunity to force Iran back to the negotiating table under threat of sanctions.
Disagreement Among Diplomats and WH Advisors
Iran’s nuclear compliance has been a topic of controversy within the executive branch. Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are supporters of the deal. If the deal fails now, Iran would be able to produce uranium and process plutonium starting immediately.
Britain, France, and Germany, all partners to the Iran deal, have been quietly pleading with Senate Republicans for the U.S. stay in the pact. Diplomats from those countries warned that Europe would not follow America’s footsteps if it withdraws.
German Ambassador Peter Wittig described the deal as a “high priority in our national security.”
“We will stand by the Iran deal, and we want you not to walk away, but to comply with it. We share some of the grievances you have about Iran, and we can talk about it — and we should talk about it — but only on the basis of sticking to the deal.”