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A Look At What Would Happen If Trump Doesn't Certify The Iran Nuclear Deal


President Trump is expected to make a major announcement next week that could unravel the nuclear deal with Iran. He faces a congressional deadline to certify that Iran is abiding by the deal and also to certify that the deal is in America's national security interests. All indications are that he's going to say it is not. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Back when the Iran deal was negotiated by the Obama administration, most lawmakers opposed it, so Congress passed a law requiring the president to certify every 90 days that the deal is working. The agreement limits Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. President Trump clearly doesn't like this certification requirement, and he's left little doubt about what he thinks of the deal itself.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That deal is an embarrassment to the United States.

KELEMEN: If Trump, as expected, refuses to certify this time, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to snap back sanctions. And if that happens, the U.S. will be breaking the deal known as the JCPOA. The Trump administration could work to ensure that Congress doesn't act or change the law that requires the president to weigh in. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also been suggesting ways to push back at Iran's other nefarious activities in the region.


REX TILLERSON: We're going to give him a couple of options of how to move forward to advance the important policy towards Iran. As you've heard us say many times, the JCPOA represents only a small part of the many issues that we need to deal with when it comes to the Iranian relationship.

KELEMEN: Democratic lawmakers say they're ready to counter Iran's bad behavior but argue it's risky to raise doubts about a deal that is working and is keeping Iran's nuclear program in check. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, is frustrated that the Trump administration is trying to hand this off to Congress.


BEN CARDIN: For the Trump administration to imply that it is just sending this to Congress is just flat wrong. This is an executive judgment, and we urge the president to stay with the agreement if there are no violations. We want to see the agreement enforced.

KELEMEN: Cardin was a critic of the Iran deal, but now that it's in place, he says at least it's ensuring there are limits to Iran's nuclear program. And U.S. sanctions relief is part of the deal.


CARDIN: It's a mixed message to say he's not certifying but still allowing the sanction relief to go forward. That's a mixed message.

KELEMEN: Republican Senator Tom Cotton told the Council on Foreign Relations this week that the strategy is to decertify and then fix the deal. And he argues that the 60-day period during which Congress could snap back sanctions should give the U.S. some leverage.


TOM COTTON: Now, I'm not sure that 60 days is long enough to conduct the kind of course of diplomacy I've mentioned. If it's obvious by the end of that 60-day period that the course of action I've recommended will not work, then perhaps we will have to re-impose sanctions then. But I'm also willing to give the administration and our allies in Europe and the Middle East more time than just 60 days to try to get a better deal.

KELEMEN: Some of his biggest complaints include the fact that key restrictions on Iran's nuclear program start phasing out after 10 years. Cotton is also pushing for tougher inspections and threatening U.S. military action if necessary. Iran has made clear it's not open to re-negotiating this, and so too have the others - Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany, who point out that it was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council two years ago. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, put it this way when he spoke at the Center for American Progress.


CHRIS MURPHY: Europeans simply will see the claim that Trump and his nonexistent State Department will be able to magically negotiate a better deal as laughable fantasy.

KELEMEN: He says the most legitimate criticism of the nuclear deal with Iran is that it doesn't last forever. But Murphy argues the U.S. is in a stronger diplomatic position to start laying the groundwork for a follow-on agreement only if the U.S. continues to abide by it. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.