WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats lashed out at US President Donald Trump after he announced the US would no longer back the Iran nuclear deal in its current form, calling his actions “dangerous” and saying they undermined American credibility.
Trump’s decision Friday to decertify the Iran nuclear deal under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), immediately provoked the dismay of Democrats, some of whom are crucial to amending the legislation.
“This is one of the most dangerous and consequential decisions the President has made imperiling US national security,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In a highly anticipated speech, Trump sharply criticized Iran and the international agreement aimed at curbing its nuclear program, refusing to certify Tehran’s compliance and warning the United States could pull out at any time.
He left it up to Congress to decide whether to levy new US sanctions on Iran that might capsize the agreement.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Thursday that Trump will ask Congress to amend INARA to include “trigger points” that would slap sanctions on Iran for provocations that are not in the deal.
To pass the amended legislation, the motion will need cross a 60-vote threshold. There are currently 52 Republicans in the Senate, which makes uniform Democratic opposition a major obstacle for him to see those changes to INARA through.
But Trump also said that if Capitol Hill lawmakers cannot strengthen the terms of the deal, he is willing to walk away from it.
“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” he said.
Democrats immediately chafed at Trump’s posturing and signaled they would remain committed to protecting the deal that America agreed to when it was struck in July 2015 with Iran and six other world powers.
“This reckless decision damages the credibility of the United States, weakens our alliances, and could hamper our ability to counter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland. “Since President Trump refuses to be the adult in the room when it comes to foreign policy, the burden is now on Congress to protect an agreement that has made the world safer by preventing a nuclear Iran.”
Other Democratic senators, like Tim Kaine of Virginia, who was Hillary Clinton’s 2016 ruling mate, said the president’s decision “damages the credibility of the United States” and would make it more difficult for other countries to enter into agreements with the US because it can no longer trust it to keep its word.
“This move puts America at risk by potentially freeing Iran to turn its back on commitments to the JCPOA and undercutting our ability to work with the international community to effectively counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who leads the Democrats in the Senate, said he expected the Congress to ultimately follow the advice of Trump’s own intelligence and top military officers who have said Tehran is abiding by the accord and that it’s in the UN national interest to remain a party to it.
“President Trump’s own Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Generals Mattis and Dunford, both said that it’s in our national security interest to keep the JCPOA in place and I agree,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer. “I believe Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, will heed their recommendation.”
One of the greatest frustrations for Democrats is that while the White House said its new Iran strategy would entail targeting the country for its non-nuclear provocations, it has yet to implement far-reaching sanctions against Tehran for those very same actions that Congress passed this summer through the Countering U.S. Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017.
“Unfortunately, the president has failed to implement the sanctions on Iran passed overwhelmingly by Congress in July and has chosen a path that makes addressing all other elements of a comprehensive Iran policy more difficult by imposing self-inflicted international isolation on the United States,” Cardin said.
“At a time when the world should be united in focusing on Iran’s bad actions, instead the President has opened up the United States to international criticism and challenge.”