Report: Trump to kick back Iran deal to Congress for tougher oversight

Oct 13, 2017

Donald Trump speaking at a rally organized by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 9, 2015. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

(JTA) — President Donald Trump intends to disavow the Iran nuclear deal so that Congress can toughen oversight on it without unraveling it, The New York Times reported.

The report Friday appeared ahead of Trump’s announcement, expected to be delivered on Friday, on whether he intends to recertify the 2015 deal led by his predecessor, Barack Obama, offering the Islamic Republic relief from international sanctions in exchange for scaling back of some elements of that country’s nuclear program.

Trump intends to “stop short, for now, of unraveling the accord or even rewriting it, as the deal’s defenders had once feared,” according to The Times, citing unnamed sources.

Trump has called the Iran accord, which introduces mutually accepted limits on the Iranian nuclear program until 2025, a “bad deal” though security officials and senior diplomats, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have said the United States should not leave the deal.

Also on Thursday, the White House announced it would be following a “new Iran strategy” focused on issues outside the Islamic Republic’s nuclear drive, which Israel and other Western countries said was aimed at gaining offensive capabilities, although Tehran consistently denied this.

The White House said in a statement Friday that the “United States’ new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the government of Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.”  The United States will “work to deny the Iranian regime – and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people. We will counter threats to the United States and our allies from ballistic missiles and other asymmetric weapons,” read the statement.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal “paves Iran’s path” to nuclear weapons, though also there some defense officials said a U.S. pullout would be counterproductive, according to Haaretz.

By not certifying the deal, Trump would essentially be kicking to Congress a decision about whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran, which would blow up the agreement, according to The Times. But the administration is expected to ask Congress not to tear apart the agreement, but merely to establish “trigger points” that could prompt the United States to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it crosses thresholds set by Congress.

The outcome “probably reflects more some of the divisions and debates within the administration,” former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross told the AFP news agency.

Getting Congress, which is deeply divided on the Iran deal, to agree on additional legislation may be beyond Trump’s political skills, The Times’ writers opined. Given the drive by some Republicans to strike down the deal and the determination of some Democrats to preserve it, it is entirely possible that Congress will do nothing, they wrote.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who has spoken out repeatedly against a US pullout from the deal, on Thursday said such a step would drive the European Union closer to China and Russia in a first reference to the impact such a move would have on EU policy. The nuclear deal was reached between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — at talks coordinated by the European Union.

“It’s imperative that Europe sticks together on this issue,” Gabriel, a Social Democrat, told the RND German newspaper group. “We also have to tell the Americans that their behavior on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA.