After campaigning to dismantle the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, President Donald Trump has not only left what he called “the worst deal ever negotiated” untouched since he came into office, but he has twice certified that the regime has not been in violation of the agreement.
The third time may not be a charm for the deal’s supporters, however. With the next certification deadline coming up, the president announced last week that he has decided the deal's future, though he has yet to be specific.
In accordance with the Iran Nuclear Review Act, the president must report to Congress every 90 days whether Iran is violating the agreement. Though he has said that Iran is not acting “in the spirit” of the JCPOA, he has told Congress Iran is not in violation, either.
“During the first round of waivers and recertifications in April, [the State Department] tried to slip it by the president as just a minor ‘technical’ issue that he didn’t have to worry about. The next time certification came up in July, they simply denied him any other option. This time they’re trying to entangle him in process,” a source familiar with the decertification debate told The Weekly Standard, a conservative weekly magazine.
Meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.N. last week, Trump told reporters that the world will “see very soon” whether he will follow through on his promise to withdraw from the agreement. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told “CBS This Morning” that this was not a “clear signal” he plans to withdraw.
“What it is is a clear signal that he’s not happy with the deal and that the United States is not safer because of it,” Haley said.
Despite Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s statement last week that Iran is in “technical compliance” with the JCPOA, some experts say Iran is anything but.
“This assertion ignores multiple Iranian violations of the letter of the accord. It overlooks the lack of transparency in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) reporting on Tehran’s nuclear conduct,” Tzvi Kahn, a senior analyst at the nonpartisan think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in a policy brief for the organization. “It sidesteps the agency’s failure to receive access to military sites where nuclear weaponization activities may have occurred. And it contradicts the assessments of other Trump administration officials.”
Elaborating, Kahn wrote that Iran has violated the heavy water limits under the JCPOA that would allow the regime to produce nuclear weapons. “Iran twice exceeded the deal’s 130-ton cap on its heavy water,” Kahn said, “but while the IAEA noted that Tehran shipped the excess material out of the country, the Joint Commission — the body tasked with monitoring the JCPOA’s implementation — allowed the regime to retain ownership of the material on foreign soil, spurring Tehran to store it in Oman.”
“Consequently, Iran still likely possesses heavy water in violation of the 130-ton limit,” he said.
Withdrawing from the agreement would likely entail two further courses of action. Trump can still “tear up the deal entirely, a scenario endorsed by John Bolton and previously promised by Trump,” wrote the Hudson Institute’s Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard. “Another option would be to decertify Iran’s compliance with the deal but not reinstate sanctions, not yet anyway.”
The latter would entail Trump persuading Congress over a 60-day span to not reinstate sanctions and completely cancel the deal.
Finally, Trump withdrawing from the deal would only be part of combatting the nuclear pact. “These include support for terrorism and criminal enterprises, threats to strategic waterways, and ballistic missile development,” Smith wrote. “The question still outstanding is whether that big picture will come to affect U.S. policy towards Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, where the Islamic Republic is further entrenching its position.”
By Jackson Richman
Jackson Richman is the Capital Commentary and Op-Ed editor of Kol HaBirah. Follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.