A growing number of foreign policy leaders, including several who opposed the deal to constrain and monitor Iran’s nuclear program, have begun ratcheting up pressure on President-elect Donald Trump to uphold the accord.
Those encouraging Trump to honor the agreement include officials from the intelligence community, foreign policy luminaries and top officials on Capitol Hill. They warn that the U.S. would make a major geopolitical misstep if it scrapped the deal President Barack Obama struck last year with Iran and five other countries.
“I think it would be a major mistake for U.S. security, for the United States, to rip up the agreement,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and one of the few Senate Democrats who voted against the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We were able to get a negotiated agreement, and if the United States is responsible for violating and ending the agreement ― may not be violating, but ending the agreement ― we isolate America. We make it much more likely that Iran can pursue, without eyes on the ground, a nuclear weapons program, making it much more likely they become a nuclear weapon power, unless we use military against them becoming a nuclear weapon power.”
Trump has expressed receptiveness to leaving the deal in place once he assumes office. During the early stages of the Republican primary, his position was that the deal shouldn’t be repealed, but, rather, policed more thoroughly. At times during the campaign, he said he would outright ax the agreement. But since the election, he’s been quiet on the matter. A video released by his transition team announcing Trump’s priorities for his first day in office notably made no mention of the Iran nuclear deal.
Foreign policy officials said they aren’t necessarily surprised by Trump’s caution. When the Iran deal was constructed, its critics warned that it would be hard to undo once in place. That’s because it was built on collective sanctions relief from multiple countries ― Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France ― in exchange for years of capping and monitoring Iran’s nuclear program.
The United States could renege on that exchange. But unless it did so in conjunction with the other parties, it would have marginal impact and leave the U.S. shouldering much of the blame if Iran used it as justification to ramp up its nuclear program.
“First of all, for one administration to tear up an agreement that a previous administration made would be unprecedented,” CIA Director John Brennan said in an interview with the BBC. “I think it would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement.”
“It would be a mistake to tear up the agreement at this point,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told CBS. “I think we would be the ones isolated, not the Iranians, because none of our partners who helped to negotiate that would walk away from it. But, I think what the new president can do is push back against the Iranians.”
Even critics of the deal recognize that it binds the U.S. fairly tightly. A senior Saudi prince recently warned Trump against scrapping the deal, as did the head of a group discouraging companies from investing money in Iran.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the foreign relations committee, told MSNBC this month that the administration had given up “all of our leverage on the front end” when it signed the accord. “I think the beginning point is for us to cause them to strictly adhere [to the agreement]. And I think that what we have to remember is, we have to keep the Europeans and others with us in this process,” he added.
That both Corker and Cardin said the accord needs to be kept in force and policed is no small matter for the deal’s prospects. While Trump has the capacity to undermine the agreement, Congress could play a role in complicating it. There certainly is an appetite to do so. The Senate, for example, is expected to vote this week on extending the Iran Sanctions Act, which the Obama administration has said it does not need (since the president could snap back sanctions by himself), but will likely support.
Rather than push to kill the deal outright, congressional critics appear to have resigned themselves to wait for an opportunity to call out a violation by the Iranians and respond aggressively. “I don’t think [Trump] will tear it up and I don’t think that’s the way to start,” Corker told CNN this month. “I think what he should do is build consensus with these other countries that [Iran is] definitely violating the agreement.”
Meanwhile, outright opposition to the deal on the Hill appears to have quieted. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) another Democrat who initially voted against the deal ― and is set to become Senate minority leader ― is opposed to efforts to weaken it, a Senate Democratic aide confirmed to The Huffington Post.
“Since the deal went into effect, he has never sought to undermine it, and has no plans to start now,” the aide said.
The influential pro-Israel organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee has not pressed the matter strongly ― at least in public ― since the agreement’s approval. There is nothing on the group’s legislative agenda about killing the deal. On it’s “issues” section, AIPAC simply says: “In order to discourage further violations of the JCPOA, the United States must take meaningful and decisive action to ensure Iranian compliance. Congress must extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA)—which is set to expire at the end of 2016—so that sanctions are in place to “snap back” should Iran violate the nuclear agreement. Extending ISA will signal to Tehran that Congress is carefully scrutinizing its actions and will hold it accountable.”