President Trump Certifies Tehran’s Compliance with Nuclear Deal, but starts Review of Sanctions Relief

On 18 April 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the recently concluded Nuclear Deal – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  

The certification is required under the  Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (INARA). INARA requires the U.S. Administration to periodically: (i) inform the U.S. Congress of Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA and (ii) renew waivers under certain U.S. Iran related sanctions regimes. 

INARA Key Provisions & Waivers under U.S. Iran Sanctions Regimes

  1. The bill requires the president to submit to Congress the agreement and all related documents, including specifics on verification and compliance. This ensures Congress will get to see the entire deal and make an independent judgment on its merits.
  2. The bill prohibits the president from waiving statutory sanctions while Congress reviews the agreement. If the agreement and all related documents are submitted prior to July 10, Congress has up to 52 days to review the deal and may vote on the agreement in the first 30 days; the president then has 12 days to veto the bill, followed by 10 days for Congress to override such a veto. If the deal is submitted in the lead up to or during the August recess (from July 10 to September 7) Congress has an additional 30 days of review for a total of up to 82 days.
  3. The bill gives Congress the opportunity to enact a joint resolution of disapproval that would permanently prevent the president from waiving or suspending the congressional sanctions. The bill enhances Congress’s authority over statutory sanctions, and goes further by explicitly making clear it does not revoke or permanently lift sanctions, which requires a separate vote.
  4. The legislation holds Iran accountable by requiring the president to certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is complying with the agreement. If Iran violates the terms of the deal, the legislation provides an expedited process for Congress to rapidly restore its sanctions.
  5. The bill also includes unprecedented reporting requirements on Iran’s direct and indirect support for terrorism, human rights violations, and ballistic missile testing.

Waivers under several Iran sanctions statutes authorize the U.S. President to waive sanctions – if he determines that it is “vital to the national security interests of the United States” to do so.:

  • National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 (NDAA 2012): Every 120 days (Section 1245 (d)) 
  • Iran Sanctions Act (ISA), as amended: Every six months
  • Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 (ITRSHRA): Every six months (Sections 212(d)(1) and 213(b)(1))
  • Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act (IFCA): Every 180 days

The NDAA 2012 waiver could be up for renewal as early as this month, although if the Obama Administration held off on issuing the previous waiver until January, then the renewal date would be sometime in May.  The ISA, ITRSHRA, and IFCA waivers are up for renewal in June or July.

However, the letter also contains the disdain which the Trump Administration has for Tehran. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled that the Trump Administration is reviewing whether continued sanctions relief under the JCPOA would be appropriate.  Although expected, given President Trump’s ranting over Iran and the JCPOA, it’s unclear what the outcome of the review will be. 

Iran remains a leading state sponsor of terror, through many platforms and methods. President Donald J. Trump has directed a National Security Council-led inter-agency review of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that will evaluate whether suspension of sanctions related to Iran pursuant to the JCPOA is vital to the national security interests of the United States

A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, July 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, July 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. President’s Obligations under INARA

Under INARA, the U.S. President must certify to Congress every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA. 

If the President fails to make the certification or advises Congress that Iran has materially breached its JCPOA obligations, then the statute provides for expedited congressional consideration of legislation re-imposing sanctions.

What could this mean for the JCPOA?  

The deal could rapture apart, if and when the JCPOA partners – especially Iran or the U.S. – walk away from the deal. 

Iran could treat any failure to renew the waivers as a breach of the JCPOA, and initiate dispute resolution proceedings under paragraphs 36-37 of the agreement

Given the upcoming election Iranian presidential elections, the incendiary text of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will most probably fuel the flames of mistrust for the U.S. to honor its JCPOA obligations given the disappointing economic results since the deal was concluded.

The question is whether Iran will be open to negotiate possible concessions in regard to its ballistic missile program, support of terrorist groups, and it’s support for Syrian President Assad? 

Cartoon is drawn by Nath (1970), who is an Indian senior cartoonist working for Indian National Herald, Khaleej Times of U.A.E.

Possibly more ominous, is the scenario in which failure to renew waivers, possibly provoked by the failure of negotiations (i.e. failure of the Trump Administration to extract concessions from Iran) would lead to the re-imposition of U.S. Secondary Sanctions.

This would in all probability rapture the JCPOA, but could also leave the U.S. isolated from close allies, e.g. the EU, as it’s highly questionable whether the EU partners would be willing to re-impose comprehensive sanctions against Iran. 

 

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