Though President Donald’s Trump own well-known view of the Iran nuclear deal may not have changed any, the views around him may be shifting.
Rebecca Kheel has contributed to The Hill an article specifically focused on the views of the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Ed Royce (R – Calif.), who said, “As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it.” The point is that withdrawal from a treaty on the grounds that Iran hasn’t complied would remove any constraint the existence of the treaty itself may place on Iran’s behavior, whereas the U.S. should seek (in Royce’s view) to strengthen those constraints rather than to remove them.
The issue is coming to a head, because under the law the Trump administration must soon either certify that Iran in in compliance, or refuse certification.
The deal in question is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by The United States, Iran, and several other powers in July 2015, by which signing economic sanctions were lifted in return for Iran’s agreement to contain its nuclear program, a containment that is itself subject to verification by inspectors.
Right Wing View
The issue of certification has become bound up in some people’s minds with the matter of the escalating tensions between the President and Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican with solid conservative credentials.
It was Corker who, as Senate Foreign Relations chairman in 2015, decided that the JCPOA would not be treated as a “treaty” but as a conventional bill – if he had invoked the Treaty Clause of the U.S. Constitution its passage would have required 2/3s of the Senators present. As a normal act of legislation, it required only majority support, though in both houses. This drew some criticism from the National Review at the time.
Trump has made the Iran deal part of his war of words and tweets with Corker, and his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, has picked up on this, saying that Corker “rolled out the red carpet for the Iran Deal.”
Regardless of the personal aspect: many conservatives and Republicans have coalesced into a group that a writer in the National Review calls “the fixers.” The agenda of the fixers is to plug loopholes in the verification/inspection system, to limit the advancement of the Iranian ballistic missile program, and to scrap time-based sunset clauses, perhaps in favor of behavior-based sunsets.
Left Wing View
Parts of the left have hailed Corker as a hero in the course of his recent feuding with President Trump. The Los Angeles Times has both tweeted and editorialized that others of his Republican colleagues “must join him in calling out Trump’s recklessness.”
But let’s stick to Iran: Fred Kaplan, in Slate, complained in September that the Trump administration was being “shamefully dishonest” about the Iran deal and about its supposed reasons for walking away.
Kaplan seems to agree with the “fixers” on the right that the deal could be improved, and he suggests “a supplemental agreement” that would not involve “tearing up the original.”
Al Jazeera observes that a refusal to certify compliance with the deal “would not be a violation of JCPOA in itself,” although it would “pave the way for Congress to introduce new sanctions, which could be in breach of US commitments under the agreement.” Thus, if the President refuses to certify and does nothing more, he will not have chosen between “fixing” and walking away. He will have put the onus on breaching-by-walking on the legislators.
Matthew Yglesias has tweeted, “Trump is so terrible that he seems to have made some hawk types recognize that the Iran policy he borrowed from them is actually ridiculous.” So decertification may have, from Yglesias’ leftward point of view, a slender silver lining.