October 18, 2017

NIAC Panel Addresses Trump’s Threats to Iran Deal on Capitol Hill

Washington, (D.C.) – “What the President is telling Congress is ‘let’s violate the deal together or I’ll violate it alone,” said Robert Malley, discussing President Trump’s speech announcing the decertification of the Iran nuclear deal and vowing to terminate the accord if it is not amended.

NIAC hosted a panel for Congressional staff following Trump’s announcement to assess the impact on the future of the deal. The panelists included Malley, Vice President of Policy at the International Crisis Group as well as a key figure in negotiating the accord while serving in the Obama Administration; John Glaser, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute; moderator Nahal Toosi, foreign affairs correspondent for Politico; and Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council.

Malley asserted that Congress should not follow the President’s advice, alluding to a pending legislation being introduced by Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tom Cotton (R-AK) that would automatically reimpose nuclear sanctions if Iran does not take steps that go beyond the nuclear deal. “The legislation that the administration is pushing and that some in Congress are supporting… is a violation of the deal, and I think the real test for Congress is to make that distinction clear,” said Malley.

Parsi agreed with Malley, saying that Trump is “very specifically looking for things that will ensure that the Iranians will say no to [the deal].” Trump is giving Congress two options regarding the future survival of the deal, Parsi said, and in both instances he is ensuring the deal fails.

Malley was also quick to point out that the agreement will not be changed through the administration attempting to use their European allies and others to pressure Iran to change the terms of the deal, highlighting the European powers’ outspoken support of continuing this deal. He insisted that “the only way that you could have a supplemental deal is by implementing this one in good faith.”  

“I actually disagree with the notion that we need to constantly have the assumption, and the presumption that Iran is just doggedly in pursuit of a nuclear weapon,” argued John Glaser of CATO. Glaser raised concerns that there is a biased perception on both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S. that Iran is single-mindedly pursuing a nuclear weapon, arguing that Iran has, in fact, made the decision to engage with the world by trading more extensively with Europe. Glaser went further to contend that none of Iran’s regional behavior poses a direct threat to the United States. “Only under the most expansive definition of U.S. national interests can you even plausibly frame these issues as being a threat,” he insisted. “Iran’s regional behaviors are only a threat to the United States to the extent that we continue to insist on sticking our nose in a region whose strategic importance has been massively overstated for generations.”

Parsi rounded out the remarks by highlighting how the U.S. stance is empowering hardliners in Iran at the expense of moderates. Hardliners had opposed negotiations and claimed that the U.S. couldn’t be trusted to hold up its end of any bargain, while moderates pushed for direct talks that carried significant political risk. The decision by Trump to decertify, Parsi said, has caused a “rally around the flag effect” that has forced moderates to more closely align with hardliners in order to guard against the embarrassment of the U.S. reneging on the accord.

In his closing remarks, Malley addressed the opponents of the deal who argue they can get a better agreement, saying: “I ask all of you to put yourselves in the shoes of an Iranian, why would they accept…this choice, which basically they can only say no to? It’s an offer they can only refuse.”

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