Deadline Approaches For Trump On Iran Deal
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In 10 days' time, President Trump will have a chance to either dismantle the Iran nuclear deal or let it stand. October 15 is when the president tells Congress whether he believes Iran is in compliance. President Trump is on the record saying he wants to scrap the whole agreement. He's called it the worst and most one-sided transaction ever. But many of America's European allies have lobbied him not to walk away from the deal. We spoke earlier today with Mark Dubowitz. He is the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and he has been advising the White House not to recertify the Iran deal.
MARK DUBOWITZ: I think all of the principals have all joined in a unanimous decision to recommend to President Trump to decertify the deal. And I think there's also unanimous agreement that, for now, the United States should stay in the deal but work to actually improve it.
MARTIN: You say a unanimous opinion to work to improve the deal but to stay in the deal, to recertify?
DUBOWITZ: To decertify.
MARTIN: To decertify?
DUBOWITZ: Yeah, to decertify, have the president refuse to certify that the deal is in a vital national security interest of the United States and then move forward on trying to find a way to actually strengthen the deal, fix the deal and get rid of some of the fatal flaws of the deal.
MARTIN: I do want to play, though, a clip of tape. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said otherwise. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that it was in the U.S.'s interest, the administration's interest to recertify. Here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JIM MATTIS: Absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.
MARTIN: International inspectors also say that Iran is abiding by the deal. European partners have been urging the administration to recertify the deal. They say Iran is in compliance. So what is the basis for your assessment for what you say is now the administration's decision that Iran is not complying?
DUBOWITZ: So General Mattis actually did say that the United States should stay with the deal, as I've said, all the principals believe that. I think the president is going to recommend that. But General Mattis also said that the president has the right to decertify the deal because the conditions have not been met. The conditions are that Iran is fully verifiably and transparently implementing the deal. In fact, Iran is denying access for inspectors to its military sites, which actually contravenes the very language of the deal.
So you have to understand Iran is not fully implementing the deal. But I think a lot of people are now saying this is not the time to walk away from the deal. This is the time to work with our European allies and actually find a way to strengthen the deal. And for those who say this is the time to abrogate and walk away and roll the dice, I would say to them, they have to be patient. And I think that's a view that the president shares. And I think that's something he'll say in his upcoming speech next week.
MARTIN: So let's talk about then logistically what happens then? If the administration doesn't recertify, you say that doesn't mean they're walking away from the deal. So then what happens?
DUBOWITZ: Well, what happens then is Congress has 60 days to consider whether they want to introduce qualifying legislation to reinstate the sanctions. And that has to be a decision that's made by the leadership. And it would require 50 votes - 50 people to sign on to a decision to reinstate the sanctions.
MARTIN: Do you think that should happen? Do you think sanctions should be re-upped?
DUBOWITZ: No, I don't. No, I don't. As I've said, I support strengthening the deal and working the diplomatic path with our European allies to try and fix it. So my sense is that that's not what's going to happen. And even, for example, Tom Cotton, who has been a leading critic of the Iran deal, said only a couple of nights ago that he also believes this is the time to decertify the deal but not necessarily to reinstate the sanctions and to give diplomacy some time to work.
MARTIN: Well, then what leverage do you have over Iran when you say they're not allowing access? How do you change that?
DUBOWITZ: Well, you change it by making very clear to Iran that the United States, as a matter of U.S. policy and U.S. law, is not going to accept a deal that cannot be verified. And so the administration is now going to be rolling out a comprehensive Iran policy. It'll be a pressure campaign using all instruments of American power.
MARTIN: And what does that look like when you say all instruments of American power?
DUBOWITZ: Well, it needs financial and economic power. It needs more sanctions. It means using military power to roll back and subvert Iranian aggression in the region. It means using political power and covert action.
MARTIN: So you're saying more sanctions could be possible?
DUBOWITZ: Sure. Sanctions that are fully compliant with the nuclear deal.
MARTIN: Well, we'll have to leave it there. Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Thanks so much for your time this morning.
DUBOWITZ: Thanks so much, Rachel.
MARTIN: All right. For more on this, we're joined now in studio by NPR's Middle East editor Larry Kaplow. Larry, we just heard there the administration is likely not going to recertify the Iran deal. At the same time, they say they are staying in the deal. So how can both be true?
LARRY KAPLOW, BYLINE: Because technically the certification is not part of the deal. What was the deal? In 2015, the U.S. and other world powers agreed to lift some sanctions on Iran in return for Iran allowing in-depth, very strict inspections and limits of its nuclear program to keep it from getting nuclear weapons. Congress didn't like it. They told President Obama back then, look, every 90 days, you have to own this. You have to tell us why you're certifying yet again that it's in the national interest. Trump says it's the worst deal he's ever seen.
MARTIN: So he doesn't want to recertify - punting to Congress.
KAPLOW: He's saying, I'm not going to own it anymore. It's back on you. It's a way of sending a signal. It's a way of shaking things up. And people don't know how it's going to work out. Maybe the administration hopes it would make Iran renegotiate it. But the rest of the world - the Europeans, the Iranians, the agency that inspects it - say the deal is working and we should leave it like it is. You don't know how Iran is going to react, if they are going to react with their own brinksmanship after Trump does this move. And that's what the world will be waiting to see.
MARTIN: Middle East editor for NPR, Larry Kaplow, giving us some context there. Thanks so much, Larry.
KAPLOW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.