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White House, U.S. Lawmakers Reported Negotiating Changes In Iran Deal Legislation

U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump

The White House is working with leading U.S. lawmakers on legislation designed to enable the United States to remain in the Iran nuclear deal, media are reporting, citing senior U.S. officials.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told The Associated Press in an interview on January 5 that changes to the U.S. law that codified U.S. participation the 2015 agreement could come as early as next week.

AP and Reuters reported that the White House is working on the legislation with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and the panel's top Democrat, Senator Ben Cardin.

The two lawmakers discussed the legislation at the White House last week with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, they reported.

President Donald Trump faces deadlines in coming days that will force him to decide how to proceed with the agreement, they reported.

Despite strongly criticizing the accord, which requires Iran to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, Trump has not withdrawn the United States from the agreement since taking office a year ago.

AP and Reuters reported that the legislative changes being negotiated with the White House include face-saving measures that would enable the president to live with the deal, such as eliminating a requirement that the administration certify every 90 days whether Iran is in compliance.

The Trump administration certified Iran's compliance twice last year, but in October Trump for the first time declined to certify, pointing to Iran's ballistic missile development and other matters which he said were in violation of the "spirit" of the deal.

Despite decertifying the deal, Trump continued to waive the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil sector for another three months, and he left the ultimate decision on whether to stay in the deal to Congress.

Trump aides have said the president dislikes having to give a thumbs-up to Iran every three months. Another certification deadline looms next week, and Tillerson told AP that Trump hasn't made a decision yet on what he'll do.

Tillerson said the administration is "very active" in working with Congress on a legislative "fix." He suggested Trump might be inclined to preserve the deal by waiving sanctions again on January 12 if there are signs Congress will act soon on the legislative changes.

But Tillerson acknowledged that getting the changes through Congress could prove difficult, and he told AP: "I don't want to suggest we're across the finish line on anything yet."

"The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it," Tillerson said. "We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it" through negotiations with Congress, he said.

AP reported that the legislation is unlikely to include any new restrictions on Iran beyond those already in the nuclear deal. But Reuters reported that it may include changes allowing the reimposition of U.S. sanctions if sunsetted provisions in the agreement expire and Iran's nuclear program reaches certain thresholds.

The administration has sharply criticized restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities that are scheduled to expire after 10 years under the deal, and has demanded that such "sunset clauses" be abolished or renegotiated.

Tillerson told AP that the administration's approach has been to first "fix" the U.S. law that governs how the U.S. adheres to the deal, and then work with European allies that helped broker the accord to address what Trump sees as shortcomings, such as its lack of firm restraints on Iran's ballistic missile development.

Corker told Reuters that the negotiations have been making progress and that the protests in Iran have made it important that Washington not do anything to shift the world's focus away from what is going on the streets of Iran.

"The last thing we need to do from my perspective would be to turn that attention to us" by once again decertifying the nuclear deal, Corker told Reuters.

With reporting by AP and Reuters