Donald Trump’s decision in October not to certify Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, writes Richard Goldberg, had a chilling effect on Europeans eager to do business with the Islamic Republic, thus putting immediate pressure on its economy. But the president did not attempt to fix or renegotiate the agreement; instead, he opened the door for Congress to institute new sanctions. Goldberg urges legislators to rise to the occasion:
At first, it seemed Congress might respond to the president’s call for action. Draft legislation circulated on Capitol Hill that would force an immediate snapback of all U.S. sanctions on Iran unless the regime halted its ballistic-missile program and allowed inspectors into key military sites where covert nuclear work may be taking place. It also used the threat of U.S. sanctions to erase the many sunset clauses contained in the original nuclear deal, which established a path toward an internationally recognized Iranian nuclear-weapons program within a decade.
Now, almost two months after the president’s decertification, it’s increasingly clear we are headed for a legislative train wreck. Supporters of the nuclear deal are locking down Senate Democrats, ensuring there could never be enough votes to break a filibuster on meaningful legislation that actually “fixed” the agreement. Gone would be any requirements that Iran halt its development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles—even though the UN Security Council resolution implementing the nuclear deal calls on Iran to do just that. Gone would be air-tight enforcement of inspections at Iranian military sites. Gone would be any automatic snapback of sanctions if the Iranians broke their obligations. Gone would be the president’s requirement to certify the deal every 90 days. The only thing left would be a de-facto legitimization of the deal tied to meaningless, non-binding policy statements designed to give political cover to senators who don’t want to look weak on Iran.
Given the executive branch’s unquestioned prerogative to change U.S. policy on the Iran deal and reimpose sanctions whenever the president wants, the leadership of the House and Senate should remember that bad Iran legislation is worse than no Iran legislation. Congress should not act unless it can pass legislation that increases U.S. leverage to change Iranian behavior by holding the sanctions sword of Damocles over the regime and its would-be trading partners in Europe.