By Jerrold Nadler
It is hard to forget the heated debate in 2015 surrounding the Iran nuclear agreement and the vote Congress faced as a result of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. It was a debate that generated terrible demagoguery on both sides, political and personal attacks, unfair criticisms, inaccurate assertions and significant schisms across political, religious, and ideological lines.
I certainly was well aware that my decision to support the agreement would be heavily scrutinized. As I said then, "It is a decision that I have taken my time to consider, knowing the stakes are too high to allow for anything but clear-headed and thoughtful analysis, with an acute awareness that there are sharply divided opinions and passionate feelings on both sides."
I don't think my approach was too different than that most other members of Congress, few of whom took the debate or decision lightly. And I certainly never envisioned a future where the President of the United States might decertify or pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action absent any significant evidence of Iran's non-compliance or violation of the agreement. To do so would suggest that the President was not being serious, and that would be beyond dangerous.
Yet that is the scenario we now face as President Trump decertifies to Congress Iran's compliance with the JCPOA -- compliance that has been verified by the IAEA, our European partners, the American intelligence, military, and diplomatic agencies, and even President Trump himself.
If all intelligence, military, and diplomatic analyses have determined that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement, we can only assume that President Trump's decertification is based on something else.
Maybe it is the fact that he never liked the deal, made repeated campaign promises to pull out of it and hates being forced to regularly recertify Iran's compliance. Or maybe it is his ego telling him that his generals are wrong, our allies are wrong, international inspectors are wrong, Republicans and Democrats who voted against the agreement but now insist that it would be a catastrophic mistake to decertify and pull out of the agreement are all wrong, and he alone is right. He does, after all, know more about this deal and has studied the details "greater by far than anybody else."
But that is wrong, and it would be wrong to believe the President's justifications when he says that Iran's conduct outside of the nuclear agreement -- its illegal testing of ballistic missiles, its support for terrorism, its human rights abuses, its destabilizing influence in the region -- and the sunsets on certain JCPOA restrictions all warrant decertification.
It is wrong because, if the President really thought that the JCPOA was disastrous to U.S. strategic interests, he would not be punting it to Congress to make the decision to re-impose sanctions and pull out of the agreement. If President Trump believed what he said, he would not have extended the waivers on Iran sanctions last month. If he really wanted to undo the deal, the President could immediately and unilaterally engage "snapback" sanctions through the U.N. Security Council. But he doesn't -- so he must believe the deal has its usefulness.
If President Trump has problems with Iran's nefarious and illicit non-nuclear activities, his administration has so far done little to use the authority given to him by Congress to counter Iran's actions or to enforce consequences for Iran's bad behavior.
When I voted in support of the agreement, I expressed grave concerns with items not covered under the JCPOA. I raised these concerns directly with President Obama and was personally guaranteed that his administration would fully pursue implementation and enforcement of non-nuclear sanctions against Iranian persons and entities engaged in such actions. For all of President Trump's usual bravado, however, Iran's regional influence continues to expand and its illegal activities continue unabated, and it is not entirely clear what the President -- who took office in January -- is doing about it.
Furthermore, the decision to decertify is counterproductive to any attempt to extend the JCPOA's 10-15 year sunsets on certain nuclear restrictions because decertification will lead to the loss of our international partners and to the loss of our credibility to follow through on our agreements, and will leave no means short of military intervention to compel the Iranians back to the table.
President Trump's decision to decertify and threatened withdrawal is a win for Tehran in that they keep all the financial and diplomatic benefits of the deal while the United States is on the outside looking in -- unable to strictly monitor and enforce JCPOA restrictions and without partners to exert additional pressure on Iran.
On both nuclear and non-nuclear fronts, decertification puts us in a worse position, and does nothing to address the serious issues that do exist. Iran is and remains a grave threat to security in the region, to the security of our allies, and to U.S. strategic interests. Yet this administration continues its made-for-TV political games. That is what we get with a President who isn't serious, who doesn't take these issues seriously and who shows little reason for others to take him seriously aside from threatened mutually assured destruction. That is very serious.