Sep 7, 2017

Iran deal opponents pave new path for Trump to de-certify

Vahid Salemi / AP

Within recent days, prominent opponents of the Iran nuclear deal have begun quietly briefing Trump administration officials on a new argument they say makes it impossible for the president to re-certify the deal.

Why now? Trump is required to re-certify the deal every 90 days, with the next deadline coming up in mid-October. Trump also needs to decide next week whether to keep extending sanctions relief to Iran. It's very possible that Trump de-certifies Iran but still waives the sanctions — a situation that would put the onus on Congress to have the decisive word on the deal.

The new argument rests on technical disclosures

the Obama administration made to Congress under the Corker-Cardin law — the 2015 legislation that established congressional oversight over the Iran deal.

These documents, which have not been made public in their entirety, included a draft of a United Nations Security Council Resolution that UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said earlier this week Iran has been violating.

  • The argument: The certification language requires the president to certify that Iran is both complying with the nuclear deal and with "all related technical or additional agreements." Influential opponents of the deal say that because the Obama administration sent Congress a draft of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 as part of its package of documents submitted under the law, that therefore makes the Resolution a "related" agreement.
  • The case against: A former Obama administration official familiar with the Iran deal said the argument is completely wrong. The source said the administration's lawyers were careful to separate out the UN Resolution in a section titled "other" rather than under the section specifically related to the Corker-Cardin law. The official said the lawyers did that to avoid this very scenario, where opponents would frame the UN Resolution as part of the law.

What the Iran hawks are saying:

  • Omri Ceren, senior adviser at the Israel Project, has discussed this new argument with several Trump administration officials.
  • Ceren told me: "There may have been a debate over whether or not the resolution counts but now it's case closed. Trump is required to tell Congress whether or not Iran is implementing the Security Council Resolution as part of certification. It's impossible for him to do that given Iran's clear violations of restrictions on everything from arms transfers to travel bans to ballistic missile development. The president would be openly lying to Congress if he certified that Iran met the Corker-Cardin requirements."
  • Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is another influential Iran deal opponent who has discussed this argument with government officials.
  • Dubowitz told me he thinks the narrow technical argument is persuasive and a "brick" in the overall decertification edifice, but the most compelling reason to de-certify Iran is because this "fatally flawed deal" without "fundamental changes" is not in the vital national security interests of the U.S.
  • He said Haley did a "terrific" job in her speech Tuesday, setting "the predicate for the president to de-certify and roll out a 'pressure and fix' campaign while signaling to Congress that now may not be the opportune time to reinstate sanctions and take America out of the deal."

Bottom line: Trump doesn't want to re-certify Iran, and it was only with the greatest reluctance that he assented to his top aides' advice the previous two times he had to re-certify. He's looking for excuses to de-certify. Trump's top advisers will brief him on his options in the coming days, and Iran hawks are seizing this opportunity to make the de-certification case as compelling as possible.

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