WASHINGTON — More than 180 of the 194 Democratic members of Congress sent a joint letter to US President Donald Trump on Wednesday, urging him to re-certify that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal.
Orchestrated by Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida and Rep. David Price from North Carolina, the missive comes ahead of the looming October 15 deadline, when Trump will have to report to Congress whether Tehran is honoring the landmark pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“Absent credible and accurate information confirming a material breach, we are concerned that withholding certification of Iran’s compliance or walking away from the JCPOA would harm our alliances, embolden Iran and threaten US national security,” the letter said.
The lawmakers also suggested that American withdrawal from the deal could damage attempts to resolve the escalating nuclear standoff with North Korean through a diplomatic process.
“We are further concerned that non-certification based on justification beyond the scope of the nuclear agreement would threaten global non-proliferation efforts and send exactly the wrong message to North Korea at the moment we are trying to diplomatically defuse that crisis,” they said.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and the US intelligence community say that Iran is, in fact, abiding by the letter of the accord. “Iran is not in material breach of the agreement and I do believe the agreement to date has delayed the development of a nuclear capability by Iran,” General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators on Tuesday.
But Trump has repeatedly suggested over the last several months that he intends to decertify Iranian compliance — and may well back out of a deal he called an “embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions” in his address to the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago.
Decertifying the deal would not, on its own, pull America out of it. It is part of a separate agreement the Obama White House struck with Congress, in which the president has to verify every three months whether Iran is honoring its commitments.
But it would enable Congress to impose fresh sanctions — or reimpose old ones — on the Islamic Republic.
Rep. Deutch, who voted against the deal, said in a statement that the United States would be better positioned to address Iran’s provocations and other destabilizing actions from within the framework of the pact.
“We need the help of this international coalition to keep up the pressure on Iran for its other malign activities outside of the JCPOA – its support for terrorism, its gross human rights violations, and its ballistic missile weapons program,” he said. “If President Trump decertifies Iranian compliance without clear evidence of Iranian violations, it will jeopardize this united front against Iran.”
Some of Trump’s own cabinet members have taken the same stance as the Democratic House members, defying their own boss.
Asked at a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing Tuesday whether he believed it was in America’s national security interest to stay in the deal, Defense Secretary James Mattis said: “Yes, senator, I do.”
After Trump grudgingly certified the Iran deal for the second time in July, he told The Wall Street Journal that he did not “expect that they will be in compliance” after the next 180-day cycle.
That interview came just after a report in Foreign Policy said the president had told his aides to develop a case for why the regime has violated the agreement by the next deadline.
Since then, he has repeatedly excoriated the nuclear deal. After his UNGA speech last month, he said he made up his mind on what he’ll do, but wouldn’t share any specifics.
Pressed by reporters to disclose his decision before he met privately with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Trump just smiled and said, “I’ll let you know what the decision is.”