Without Trump Certification, Fate Of Iran Nuclear Deal Falls To Congress

Oct 8, 2017
Originally published on October 9, 2017 12:24 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This week, President Trump is expected to announce whether or not he certifies that Iran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal. That was the deal made between Iran, the United States, the European Union, China, Russia, France, the U.K. and Germany. It calls for Iran to stop activities that could help it make a nuclear bomb. In exchange, global sanctions were lifted. There have been strong hints that Trump will declare Iran is not in compliance with the deal. To help figure out what that might mean, I'm joined by NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. He covered the negotiations that led to the nuclear deal. Hi, Peter. Thanks so much for joining us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So would you remind us what this decision is that President Trump has to make?

KENYON: Right. This is not a requirement under the nuclear deal itself. That happened last month when the president did continue to waive the sanctions against Iran. This time, it's a congressional mandate. And if President Trump does not certify Iran's compliance to Congress, lawmakers then have a 60-day window in which they could more easily pass legislation re-imposing American sanctions on Iran.

MARTIN: What's our sense of whether Congress is likely to do that?

KENYON: Well, that's a good question. It's not really clear yet. Early comments have been pretty equivocal, suggesting that some top lawmakers aren't thrilled with this idea of potentially derailing this deal that restricts Iran's nuclear program at a time when they've got other crises - i.e. North Korea - on their hands. On the other hand, voting against Iran is pretty popular on Capitol Hill as a rule. And if President Trump doesn't certify for the next 60 days, all they would need would be simple majority. So it's certainly possible.

MARTIN: So if the U.S. does put sanctions back on Iran, what does that mean? And what does that mean for the future of the deal?

KENYON: Right. Well, that may depend on how broad the sanctions wind up being if they get put back on. Now, here's a comment from a former official at the International Atomic Energy Agency. That's the group that does these inspections to make sure Iran is complying with the deal. His name is Tariq Rauf. He told me that it could come down to who exactly would be hurt by these re-imposed sanctions. Here's how he put it.

TARIQ RAUF: There are some senators who already have tabled bills on re-imposing U.S. bilateral sanctions on Iran. How these bills are phrased in terms of punitive measures, for example, on European companies that continue to trade with Iran, will be something to watch for.

KENYON: In other words, if Congress just puts back sanctions and leaves it at that on Iran, the other five partners - the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China - they could keep right on trading with Iran. But if those countries also might face U.S. penalties, that could kill billions of dollars in business deals that are now on the table, and that might lead to the demise of the agreement. One other thing I should mention - it's possible lawmakers might pass a change to this law itself, conceivably taking away this requirement that the president has to certify this every 90 days. If they don't do that, this drama could just keep going and going.

MARTIN: So, Peter, before we let you go, what are your sources saying about the potential broader implications here? Do the experts see any broader issues here?

KENYON: Well, yes, definitely. The nuclear experts and the nonproliferation people I've been talking with point to North Korea regularly. They say why would North Korea - or any other country - agree to limit its nuclear program if it sees the U.S. now backing away from an international commitment just because a new president was elected? And then, you could take that same concern and apply it more broadly to other treaties or agreements. The whole idea of the effectiveness of diplomacy and negotiation as an alternative to pressure in military action - that could be called into question.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: You're welcome, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.