Emboldened by President Trump’s increasingly hostile rhetoric against the Iran deal, opponents of the agreement inside and outside the administration are once again going on the attack.
In recent weeks, you may have noticed a spike in news about the deal, both from mainstream outlets and right-wing advocacy groups. Some of this news is true (i.e. the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran remains in compliance with the deal). Some of this news is fake (if only there were a catchy term for that) and some is simply designed to be so confusing that it’s hard to know the difference.
Our aim here is to simplify things a bit and make it easier to see through what the administration and its anti-deal allies are doing. Hopefully this will help clarify things for you and make it easier to respond to those all caps email forwards from that uncle who’s still talking about Hillary’s emails.
September 15 When the Iran deal was implemented, the United States suspended sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program (other sanctions related to terror and ballistic missile development remain in place). But these sanctions are not permanently suspended. Under US law, the Executive Branch has to issue a new waiver every 120 days to keep these sanctions suspended. So — if President Trump doesn’t re-suspend the sanctions by September 15, sanctions will automatically go back into place, and the United States will be in violation of the deal.
October 15 Another law requires the president to inform Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the deal AND several other subjective criteria that, while related to the nuclear deal, are actually broader than what Iran committed to under the deal. This is the deadline experts are more worried about.
The law is written such that Trump could claim Iran is violating the deal without actually giving Congress any evidence of their violations. If he were to do so, Congress would have 60 days to introduce legislation to reimpose sanctions that could pass by a simple majority vote in each chamber. Such a bill becoming law would violate our commitments under the deal. However, the choice of whether to introduce and pass such legislation is up to Congress.
If Trump refuses to issue a certification of compliance in October (in the absence of hard evidence Iran is violating the deal), you can expect us to mount a major campaign to pressure Congress to buck Trump and keep the deal intact.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which the Iran deal tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, reported last week that Iran is complying — as it has repeatedly concluded in the period since the agreement was implemented. The agency used electronic monitors and on-site inspections — elements of the most intrusive inspections regime in history — to make its determination.
Fantastic question. You might remember it from the news, or you might have keenly noted the 90 day requirement above, but Trump (having been in office for 231 days) has, in fact, already certified that Iran is complying with the deal. However, it took a lot of pressure from some of his top advisors, including Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and National Security Adviser McMaster. And, immediately after certifying compliance in July, Trump told reporters he’d be ‘surprised’ to find Iran in compliance again in October.
This statement (as with many statements from the president) doesn’t appear to be based on the actual available facts. The plain truth is that President Trump has been a vocal opponent of the Iran deal from the very start and seems to be looking for an excuse to end the agreement.
In fact, multiple intelligence officials have reportedly said that President Trump is pressuring intel agencies to provide evidence that will enable him to claim Iran is violating the deal. If that gives you a sense of déjá vu, you’re not alone. People at the CIA are also drawing parallels between Trump’s behavior and President Bush’s single-minded effort to demonstrate that Iraq had WMD’s. That comparison is especially apt as ending the deal could very well lead us down the path to another major war in the Middle East and would isolate us internationally (47 national security experts detail more of the dire consequences here).
So far, it doesn’t seem like they are having much luck. Which is why they are resorting to their favorite play on so many issues: making stuff up. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has made some seriously misleading claims of late, including that the deal was intended to end Iran’s nuclear program (it wasn’t — it was intended to block Iran from getting a nuclear bomb) and that the deal was supposed to constrain Iran’s behavior beyond the nuclear program (it wasn’t — it was intended to block Iran from getting a nuclear bomb).
But most of all, she’s tried to make an issue of access to Iran’s military sites. What’s going on there? Could Iran be hiding something there? Now that we’ve raised the idea, aren’t you suspicious?
Aha, you’ve fallen into the trap! International inspectors actually can inspect the sites, with cause, and ask the other parties to the deal to punish Iran if it denies reasonable requests for access.
Amb. Nikki Haley recently raised the question of the military sites to the IAEA and, as the State Department later confirmed, offered not a single shred of evidence that anything fishy is going on at those sites.
The gambit appears to be unrelated to actual concerns about activities at the military sites, but instead is intended to create doubts about the deal here at home — and to provoke Iran. As no evidence was given to the IAEA, they have not ordered inspections of these military sites. But some experts have posited that the administration had hoped to force such frequent inspections of non-pertinent sites that Iran would, out of frustration, deny inspectors access to sites. Without evidence that Iran is violating the deal, the administration would essentially hope to provoke Iran into violating it.
Our favorite question of all. As mentioned above, if President Trump refuses to certify Iran’s compliance by October 15, it will be up to Congress whether to introduce and pass legislation to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions (a violation of the deal) or to refuse to go along with the administration’s dangerous ploy. Congress could, potentially, save the deal.
That’s why it’s essential for us to be reaching out to members of Congress now in support of the agreement. With enough pressure early, it’s possible the administration will be persuaded to leave the deal alone. Otherwise, we’ll need the votes in the fall to save the deal.
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