Trump's Refusal To Recertify Sets Off Reconsideration Of Iran Nuclear Deal

Oct 13, 2017
Originally published on October 13, 2017 4:01 pm

President Trump announced on Friday that he will not recertify the Iran nuclear deal.

The president has long promised to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, which he has called the "worst deal ever." Withdrawing presidential certification to Congress does not take the U.S. out of the deal itself, but it creates an opening for Congress to do so.

Lawmakers could reimpose sanctions on Iran that would break the deal. But key Congressional leaders say they are hesitant to do that or upend the agreement at least for now.

Proponents of the deal say it is working to stifle Iran's nuclear program, but critics, such as foreign affairs analyst Jonathan Wachtel, former spokesman for U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, say the time is now to reconsider the agreement.

"Look the deal is a bad deal," Wachtel tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson. "We have a problem in which there is a deal, in which certain sites, specifically military sites, in Iran are off limits to IAEA inspectors. Iran has been an absolutely bad actor since clinching the deal."

With this step, the Trump administration hopes to eliminate the deal's expiration date of 15 years, tighten inspections on nuclear facilities, and remove the clause that allows Iran to continue nuclear research and development.

"What is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran's nuclear capability for a short period of time? This as president of the United States is unacceptable," Trump said on Friday afternoon.

The 2015 agreement, which was spearheaded by then-President Obama and struck with China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the European Union, provides temporary relief from some international economic sanctions as long as Iran allows inspections and other limits on its nuclear program.

The deal also required the country to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98 percent, remove two-thirds of its centrifuges and dismantle the core of its heavy water reactor.

Despite President Trump's harsh criticism of the deal, his administration recertified the deal twice during this term. The State Department is required to re-establish Iran's cooperation with the nuclear deal every 90 days under the law. The next deadline was to be this Sunday.

While inspections are beneficial, says Wachtel, who until August was director of communications at the U.S. Mission to the U.N., they might not be enough to fully contain Iran's nuclear program.

"In fact, there are arguments coming out of various corners saying that indeed it's not that Iran's program is intact, that there are at least six military sites that are still continuing with the weaponization aspects of the nuclear program," he says. "So it's really uncertain where we are."

As NPR's Larry Kaplow writes, if the U.S. were to completely withdraw from the agreement, Europe, China and other world powers would likely continue trade with Iran. According to the World Bank, Iran's economy boomed by 6.4 percent last year after economic sanctions were dropped.

The Europeans and the Chinese "were very excited about the deal largely because of the business aspects of it," including opportunities in Iran's oil sector, Wachtel says. "They all want business. We know money talks. But the truth of the matter is we have to figure out things in terms of our national security."

Some say that removing the U.S. from the deal would send a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. can't stick to an agreement.

As a result of the deal, Iran's "nuclear program is in a box," security analyst Jim Walsh tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "Why would we open that box? We're creating confusion and uncertainty, and our allies don't know what we're doing, and they're thinking America won't keep its promises."

But Wachtel argues it's likely Trump's move could send "an opportune signal to North Korea," which has conducted several ballistic missile tests this year.

"The deal that was struck was not the right deal, so the signal also could be interpreted as saying, 'Hey North Korea, we need to do a proper deal this time,' " Wachtel says, "so you can't fudge along things, and for instance, not give IAEA inspectors access to military sites."

As Congress considers whether to re-impose sanctions, Wachtel says it is also an opportunity for lawmakers to solidify the deal by removing the sunset clause and resolving the issue of off-limits sites for inspectors.

"So there are fewer doubts out there so we can figure out what we're getting into here and not end up in a situation in which Iran is ready to spring right into action," he says. "And we were idiots with the wool pulled over eyes and just blind to what was going on."

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