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July 25, 2017

Congress Must Restrain Trump’s Push to Unravel the JCPOA

There are numerous indications that the Trump administration is actively seeking to undermine the Iran nuclear deal and that the Administration could very likely decide not to recertify Iran’s compliance as mandated by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act this fall.
 
If the Trump Administration makes good on these threats, or otherwise undermines or violates the JCPOA, they will succeed in ending far-reaching, verifiable restraints on Iran’s nuclear program and returning the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. Now is not the time for Congress to provide legislation that could give Trump new authorities to violate the nuclear deal and set the stage for conflict.
 
Particularly in light of the Administration’s dangerous direction on the JCPOA, as well as the lack of diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Iran that should be a prerequisite to any sanctions approach, NIAC Action opposes new Iran sanctions that are included as part of a larger sanctions package (the ‘‘Russia, Iran, and North Korea Sanctions Act’’) and will go to a vote this week. NIAC Action encourages lawmakers to speak publicly about the Trump Administration’s apparent eagerness to sabotage the nuclear deal, the danger of this approach in taking the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war, and the dangerous lack of diplomatic engagement by this Administration vis a vis Iran.
 
  • On July 17, 2017, the State Department certified that Iran was in compliance with the JCPOA despite President Trump’s opposition. According to inside accounts, President Trump “spent 55 minutes of the meeting telling them [his advisers] he did not want to [certify].”
  • According to Foreign Policy, Trump has tasked White House staffers with laying the groundwork to potentially withhold certification at the next 90 day review of the JCPOA this fall. Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon and Advisor to the President Seb Gorka are reportedly among those staffers involved in making the case for decertification. 
  • The new initiative – a task force dedicated to searching for intelligence to justify a decision not to certify – harkens back to the push for war with Iraq in 2002, when Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith cherry picked intelligence to help make the case for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.
  • The Trump administration is considering downgrading the State Department’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation by merging it into the Bureau of Near East Affairs. Such a move would risk reducing the State Department’s ability to effectively monitor Iranian compliance.
  • At a White House press briefing on July 10, 2017, then Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated that, while meeting with foreign leaders at the G-20 Summit, President Trump urged nations to come together and “to stop doing business with nations that sponsor terrorism, especially Iran.” This contradicts express U.S. obligations under the JCPOA not to deter others to normalize trade with Iran. See JCPOA ¶¶ 28-29.

These warning signs have not gone unnoticed, as major editorials, former officials and political commentators have noted the drift toward unnecessary conflict with Iran:

  • New York Times, Avoiding War With Iran, Editorial Board–July 20, 2017
     
    “The last thing the United States needs is another war in the Middle East. Yet a drumbeat of provocative words, outright threats and actions — from President Trump and some of his top aides as well as Sunni Arab leaders and American activists — is raising tensions that could lead to armed conflict with Iran.”
  • New Yorker, Is The Nuclear Deal With Iran Slipping Away?, Robin Wright–July 19, 2017
     
    “At least three major U.S. allies have sent their ambassadors to Iran to Washington, to try to convince the new Administration to support the accord—and to explain Iran to Trump Administration staffers who were not involved in the diplomacy. Trump appears willing to chart a risky course, whatever the repercussions.”
  • Los Angeles Times, Stop playing games with the Iranian nuclear deal, Editorial Board–July 22, 2017
     
    “It’s time for Trump to stop playing games with U.S. support for the nuclear agreement. So long as Iran complies with the terms, the U.S. should live up to its obligations.”
  • USA Today, Iran nuclear deal is working–July 20, 2017
     
    “The agreement is working. With a few minor exceptions that have nothing to do with proliferation — each quickly corrected when discovered by inspectors — Tehran has abided by limits on stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, heavy water for nuclear plant operation and centrifuges for enriching uranium. Last year, for example, Iran poured concrete into the core of its only heavy-water plant capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, ruining it.”
  • The New Republic, Nuclear Summer, Colin Kahl–July 14, 2017
     
    “But even if Trump doesn’t torpedo the Iran deal directly, he could wind up scuttling the agreement by pushing Iran into a corner. In the coming months, the president is likely to embrace a much more aggressive posture toward Tehran, including more sanctions, more military exercises in the region, interdicting more Iranian vessels, selling more arms to Israel and Arab states, and taking direct action against Iran’s militant proxies—moves that could serve to escalate tensions and increase the likelihood of a military confrontation.”  
  • Washington Post, The U.S. and Iran are heading toward crisis, Ishaan Tharoor–July 19, 2017
     
    “Iran remains the president’s No. 1 geopolitical bugbear. Trump, who seems determined to smash every pillar of former president Barack Obama’s legacy, repeatedly cast the deal as a capitulation to the Islamic Republic. The only memorable event in the short-lived tenure of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn was his cryptic statement ‘officially putting Iran on notice.’ In Saudi Arabia, on his first foreign visit, Trump signed on to Riyadh’s vision for the Middle East — one that is shaped first and foremost by antipathy toward Tehran.” 
The Trump administration has now taken every step short of explicitly leaving the JCPOA to indicate its desire for it to fail. But the nuclear accord has produced tangible results that benefit U.S. security including:
 
  • Iran reduced its installed centrifuges by two-thirds.
  • The time it would take Iran to enrich sufficient uranium for a single nuclear weapon has increased from 2-3 months under the interim deal to a full year under the JCPOA.
  • Iran’s enrichment level is now capped at 3.67%, far below weapons grade.
  • Iran’s uranium stockpile was cut by 97%, a fraction of the amount needed for a single nuclear weapon with further enrichment.
  • The core of the Arak reactor was destroyed and Iran will redesign the facility so that it will not produce weapons grade plutonium.
  • Iran is voluntarily implementing the IAEA Additional Protocol and will later seek its ratification, ensuring expanded inspector access throughout Iran’s entire nuclear program, enhancing the IAEA’s ability to detect any potential Iranian cheating. 
Trump is setting the stage to eliminate all of these national security gains without a realistic plan for anything better. Without the JCPOA, Iran would once again move toward a nuclear weapon capability, and the U.S. and Iran would be moving quickly toward war – this time without the support of the international community.
 
We encourage lawmakers to take action to restrain the Trump Administration and speak out publicly about the dangerous direction of the Administration to dismantle the JCPOA before it is too late.
  
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