Trump to Declare Iran Noncompliant With Nuclear Deal Obligations

By Patrick Goodenough | October 6, 2017 | 4:22am EDT
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hasan Rouhani. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader)

( – President Trump looks set next week to “decertify” Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal negotiated by his successor, after reiterating Thursday his view that the regime in Tehran has “not lived up to the spirit of the agreement.”

Before meeting with senior security leaders at the White House, Trump said the regime “supports terrorism and exports violence, bloodshed and chaos across the Middle East.”

“That is why we must put an end to Iran’s continued aggression and nuclear ambitions,” he said, adding that the meeting would be discussing the Iran issue.

Supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) argue that Iran is technically compliant with the deal, but Trump’s reference, again, to the “spirit” alludes to a specific paragraph in the accord.

That paragraph says that Iran and the P5+1 negotiating group – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – “commit to implement this JCPOA in good faith and in a constructive atmosphere, based on mutual respect, and to refrain from any action inconsistent with the letter, spirit and intent of this JCPOA that would undermine its successful implementation.”

President Trump says Iran has violated the 'spirit' of the nuclear deal. (Image: JCPOA/European Union)

Some have argued that because that wording is in the preamble of the deal, it is not part of the agreement itself and therefore Iran cannot be held to it. However, the identical sentence appears again in the body of the accord (paragraph 28).

(The Trump administration has also pointed to another sentence that does appear only in the preface. It says that the parties to the accord “anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.”)

Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others have repeatedly drawn attention to Iranian behavior such as ballistic missile launches, support for terrorism and other destabilizing activity in the region, as the president did again on Thursday.

Much recent media reporting muddles the issue by stating, inaccurately, that Trump has decided to “decertify the deal” next week but not to abandon it.

However, the president is not required to certify or decertify the actual JCPOA – which the Obama administration ensured was not a treaty requiring Senate advice and consent.

Instead, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (“Corker-Cardin”) requires the president, every 90 days, to certify: a) that Iran is implementing the agreement; b) that Iran has not breached its commitments under it; c) that Iran has taken no steps to advance its nuclear weapons program; and d) that the suspension of sanctions is “appropriate and proportionate” to the steps Iran has taken and is in U.S. national security interests.

Next week will be the third time Trump must give that report to Congress.

He did so first in April, 90 days after his inauguration, and on the same day Tillerson announced that the president had ordered an interagency review into the JCPOA, to determine whether the suspension of sanctions under the deal was in U.S. national security interests.

Ninety days later Trump again certified Iranian compliance in July, but said at the same time that the regime was not keeping the “spirit” of the agreement. That certification was accompanied by the announcement of new sanctions targeting supporters of the missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

A decertification by the president would trigger a 60-day period during which the Senate can consider a response which could include the reimposition of some sanctions.

Some leading critics of the deal have urged Trump to decertify Iranian compliance, and then work with Congress and partners on strengthening the deal – among other things by hardening up an inspection regime which President Obama boasted was the “most robust and intrusive” ever negotiated, but which has been found wanting.

The head of Iran’s nuclear agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, reiterated in Rome on Thursday that the JCPOA was not renegotiable.

“We have on several occasions said that JCPOA has been negotiated once – as Russian foreign minister and E.U. foreign policy chief [Federica] Mogherini and China have underlined – [and] that JCPOA cannot be renegotiated,” he said.

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