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October 2, 2017

Senators Hesitant to Undermine Iran Nuclear Deal Amid North Korea Crisis

Washington, D.C. – With the Iran nuclear deal certification deadline approaching, several Senators have raised concern that decertification would have a negative impact on the ongoing and immediate nuclear crisis with North Korea.

Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), highlighted concern about Trump’s expressed desire to withhold certification of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) at a hearing Thursday, and asked whether these statements could undermine diplomatic efforts with North Korea. “Don’t our allies see that when we as a nation renege on one nuclear agreement, that we are not as trustworthy as (they) thought we were as a nation for the next round?” he asked.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stated during the hearing that although she understood concerns about North Korea undercutting possible nuclear negotiations, she was worried about U.S. efforts undercutting the nuclear accord with Iran.  “So far the Iranian nuclear deal is working, and my question is if we blow that up, does it make it harder to get to an agreement that the North Koreans could believe in if we try to negotiate with them?” she asked.

Sen. Warren ended her remarks by quoting Adam Szubin, former Acting Secretary of the Treasury of the United States: “Great nations do not play games when it comes to their international agreements. Doing so would be especially short-sighted when we are trying to convince the world to join us in a North Korean sanctions campaign whose stated objective is nuclear diplomacy.”

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, also warned in a separate hearing that the U.S. pulling out of the nuclear deal while Iran is still compliant could have several perilous effects, including allies questioning U.S. treaty obligations as well as dissuading North Korea from entering into future discussions to rollback its nuclear program.

Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reinforced the idea that unilateral actions by the U.S. to pull out of the JCPOA would affect both diplomatic and military options in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat. At a Council on Foreign Affairs event on Friday, he argued that if the U.S. exits the deal, not only would the U.S. be considered an outlier by the international community, but that an already suspicious North Korea would be signaled that “if we make a deal with these folks they might not keep it.”

These sentiments were also expressed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) in an op-ed for Time, who wrote that “if we abandon one multilateral deal they helped us achieve, can we really expect they (Russia and China) would work with us to achieve a negotiated resolution on North Korea? And how would we ultimately address North Korea without China and Russia’s leverage and pressure?”

As we get closer to the certification deadline, Congress only appears to be more and more anxious about the ramifications of Trump decertifying and the U.S. backing out of the accord. Even some Republican legislators – not a single one of whom voted against the JCPOA in 2015 – have expressed reservations about the U.S. unilaterally withdrawing. As tensions continue to rise with North Korea over its nuclear weapons test and missile launches, it is likely that legislators will continue to raise concerns about opening up a second nuclear crisis with Iran.

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