U.S. President Donald Trump's call for legislation aimed at toughening the Iran nuclear deal faces an uncertain future in Congress even as leading Republican senators stepped forward to champion the cause.
"I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal's many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons," Trump said as he announced steps to try to rein in what he described as Iran's "rogue" activities in the Middle East.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and fellow Republican Tom Cotton shortly after Trump's speech offered an outline of legislation they said would "address flaws" in the 2015 accord identified by the president.
According to a summary, the legislation would reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran if it restarts enrichment of uranium after 2025, when the deal's restrictions on enrichment are due to expire under a "sunset" clause singled out as offensive by the administration.
"I think that we have provided a route to overcome deficiencies and to keep the administration in the deal, and actually make it the kind of deal it should have been in the first place," Corker said on a call with journalists on October 13.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce and other House Republican leaders also expressed support for Trump's goals and said that the House will vote in coming weeks to boost non-nuclear sanctions against Iran.
“The President’s announcement today rightly focuses on the full range of deadly threats from the Iranian regime. Our relationship with Iran should not be defined by one flawed nuclear deal. From Yemen to Lebanon, Iran...supports terrorist groups like Hizballah, bolsters the ruthless [dictatorship of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], promotes instability through sectarianism in Iraq, and abuses the human rights of the Iranian people," Royce said in a statement joined by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other House Republicans.
“We are committed to work with the president to address [the nuclear deal's] flaws, hold Iran strictly accountable to its commitments, and support efforts to counter all the Iranian threats," they said.
Republicans control Congress, but not by overwhelming majorities. Their four-seat edge in the Senate, in particular, means that for any legislation to pass, it would need Democratic support as well as the backing of nearly every Republican.
Mustering that level of support in the Senate has proved difficult for Trump thus far on other critical legislative matters.
Trump faces opposition from within his own Republican party. Senator Marco Rubio said he has "serious doubts" about Trump's Iran strategy and would have preferred that the president just abandon the nuclear deal.
"Ultimately, leaving the nuclear deal, reimposing suspended sanctions, and having the president impose additional sanctions would serve our national interest better than a decertified deal that leaves sanctions suspended or a new law that leaves major flaws in that agreement in place," Rubio said in a statement.
Most Democrats in Congress also appeared to oppose Trump's plan.
Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Trump of "manufacturing a new crisis that will isolate us from our allies."
"We will not buy into the false premise that it is Congress’ role to legislate solutions to problems of his own making," Cardin said. "It is now up to Congress to show the world that there is bipartisan support for the United States to uphold its commitment" to the nuclear deal.
Cardin told Reuters that he would only support legislation that has the backing of the European allies who signed the nuclear pact -- Britain, France, and Germany.
Corker acknowledged a tough fight ahead to gain backing for his legislation, but said he hoped to win over Democrats. He also pledged to seek the support of European allies.