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Congress Not Acting On Trump's Deadline For Iran Nuclear Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Senator Bob Corker.
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Senator Bob Corker.

On Tuesday, December 13, the 60-day period President Donald Trump set for Congress to address the Iran nuclear deal is expiring, without any visible action by U.S. lawmakers.

On October 13, Trump in a tough speech on Iran, refused to certify Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and threw the ball to the U.S. Congress, asking lawmakers to set “firm trigger points” related to Iran's nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs, the crossing of which would immediately and automatically reimpose sanctions against Iran.

Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, have not come up with the trigger points Trump requested, which leaves the administration’s Iran policy in uncertainty.

The Washington Times quotes congressional aides as saying that lawmakers still have time to come up with something before another mandated 90 -day Iran certification deadline comes up in January.

But given the fact that the holiday season is upon Washington and Congress will be in recess, it will not be easy to act in time.

In his October speech, Trump threatened that unless Congress and European allies come up with fixes to the Iran nuclear deal and address its missile program, he might pull out of the agreement altogether.

Although some European leaders, such as France’s Emmanuel Macron have raised the issue of Iran’s missiles and its interventionist behavior in the Middle east, but generally Europe has stood by the 2015 agreement.

Congressional and European inaction will put president Trump in a difficult situation in January. If he does not act, his tough position on Iran will be nothing more than words. If he acts unilaterally to scrap the deal, the U.S. might lose support from allies.

But the supporters of the nuclear deal also find themselves in a difficult position. If they support Trump, they might help violate the deal and if they oppose making any changes, they might risk a total U.S. pull-out or serious violations of the agreement by imposition of new sanctions.

According to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (Inara) Congress enacted when the nuclear deal was made, the U.S. president must certify every 90 days that Iran is honoring the agreement.

President Trump did certify Iran’s compliance twice since becoming president, but refused to do so in October, arguing that Iran’s missile program and its interventionist policies in the region violate the spirit, if not the letter of the agreement.

Senior administration officials, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have expressed hopes that the nuclear deal will be saved and the U.S. will not face diplomatic problems in Europe and more tensions in the Middle East.

Republican senators Bob Corker and Tom Cotton were working in October with the White house to find a way to amend Inara, so the president did not have to re-certify the deal every 60 days and also tighten the nuclear deal, addressing Trump’s concerns.

But the Financial Times quotes congressional aides, administration officials and diplomats that “efforts to introduce draft legislation to amend Inara” so far have not made any progress. Apparently, no negotiations are taking place to prepare legislation.

Meanwhile, with president Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Iran has found an opportunity to ramp-up its anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli rhetoric, offering full support to Palestinians and some militant groups in Gaza.

Iran’s ally, President Vladimir Putin of Russia toured the region on October 11, making a surprise visit to Syria and an official visit to Egypt. Putin appeared to be filling the vacuum left by the U.S. or trying to carve out a larger space for Russian influence in the region.