Punting to Congress risks dangerous escalation with Iran.
If President Donald Trump chooses to decertify the Iran nuclear deal later this week he is knowingly resuscitating the specter of war with Tehran.
That is how at least one observer who spoke to Anadolu Agency, sees the situation.
The looming move would not trigger a unilateral U.S. exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but would put Washington on a collision course with the Islamic Republic, Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, told the agency in an exclusive interview.
“Decertification may sound like a very innocent term, but he’s triggering a process that very likely can lead to war,” Parsi said. "He’s not going to be in control of what happens next,” he added in reference to Trump.
U.S. presidents are mandated to certify Iran’s compliance with the deal every 90 days, and the next deadline is Sunday.
Driving Trump is a desire to roll back former President Barack Obama's landmark achievements, according to Parsi.
So far, he has taken the U.S. out of an historic climate deal, removed Washington from an Asia free trade pact and put the U.S. on the path to a dissolution of ties with Cuba for a series of mysterious attacks on U.S. personnel.
If Trump chooses to decertify the agreement lawmakers would have to decide on next steps, which could include snapping back sanctions that were lifted in exchange for widespread access and curbs on Iran’s nuclear program – reneging on the U.S.’s JCPOA commitments.
Congress could just as easily choose to keep the U.S. in the pact by doing nothing, or taking smaller measures such as passing resolutions that would seek renegotiations of key aspects of the JCPOA.
Making any headway on the diplomatic front is unlikely as Europe and the UN have maintained the deal is working.
And a U.S. pull out from the accord would put the country at odds with not only Iran, but all four of its fellow UN Security Council members – China, Russia, the U.K. and France – as well as Germany.
The group, collectively known as the P5+1, and the European Union, negotiated the nuclear deal with Tehran.
Trump will “become a leader of a rogue nation as the White House and State Department used to call other nuclear outliers”, said John LaForge, who is co-director of the nuclear watchdog group, Nukewatch.
“The U.S. would be throwing itself outside of the agreed terms of this peace deal, this disarmament agreement that has been remarkably successful in de-weaponizing Iran’s nuclear power program,” he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency --tasked with monitoring the JCPOA’s implementation -- has consistently verified Iran's compliance with the agreement since it was implemented in January 2016 and most recently Sept. 7.
“He is taking a functioning agreement that is delivering and turning it into a crisis,” Parsi said.
Trump has consistently taken a hard line against Iran since assuming office and ripped the deal as an “embarrassment” to the U.S. during his first United Nations address last month.
He may be fueled, in part at least, by seeking distraction from his poorly-received handling of domestic crises, as well as the ongoing modernization of the U.S.'s own nuclear forces.
"This trillion-dollar buildup is a highly embarrassing position for the U.S. to be in when the rest of the world is pursuing abolition and the president wants to distract attention from it,” according to LaForge who believes the move is a political sleight of hand. “There’s no reason whatsoever to have a gripe with the current multinational agreement with Iran, except as a red herring to distract the American people from Trump’s terrible record with disaster, relief, the economy and with development of new nuclear weapons by the United States military.”
Still, Trump realizes the risks he is taking in decertifying the Iran deal, Parsi added, but he “also thinks that if it goes to that point he will have a way of blaming Congress”.
“He’s making sure that the blame for the ensuing disaster will be able to be spread around a little bit,” he said.
Despite both chambers of Congress being controlled by the president’s party, it’s far from clear if lawmakers would sign off on a U.S. exit.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday that Washington should stay within the deal, but be strict in its implementation.
“As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it,” Ed Royce said.
The previous week, Trump’s top defense officials, secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford, testified that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, fueling skepticism about a potential exit by some Republican lawmakers who are on the fence about the deal's future.
That is crucial as Democrats are unlikely to sign off on scrapping one Obama’s landmark achievements as Trump continues to pullback others, and they would likely be able to obstruct any effort to change the Iran deal in the Senate.
“There are sensible Republicans on the Armed Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee that understand this current deal has been rather good for the United States, reduced a lot of tensions with Iran for many years to come,” said LaForge.
“They also realize that the current deal didn’t eliminate all of the sanctions against Iran, something that the president claims over and over again erroneously,” he said.
For those hawkish lawmakers who wish to continue penalizing Iran for its non-nuclear related activities, there are still many open venues – including standing sanctions authorities for Iran’s ballistic weapons program.
But the JCPOA itsef is delivering the desired results, observers say.