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US Senate Democrats defend Iran nuclear deal

29 Sep 2017, 5.57 pm GMT

US Senate Democrats defend Iran nuclear deal

Washington, 29 September (Argus) — Senior Democrats in the US Senate are urging President Donald Trump's administration not to overturn the nuclear agreement with Iran that last year lifted restrictions on that country's crude oil exports.

The administration has until 15 October to decide whether it will certify to Congress that Iran continues to implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and that the agreement remains in US interests. The agreement between Iran and the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China went into effect in January 2016.

A unilateral US withdrawal would affect US efforts to force North Korea to give up its nuclear program, senator Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) said today. It would "send a message to North Koreans that if we make a deal, we will not keep it," Reed said at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and other Democrats have made a similar argument this week, as did US' allies in Europe.

A US withdrawal would send a message to North Korea that "we in the west are not credible, that we are not honoring our agreements, that diplomacy is not reliable," Germany's ambassador to the US Peter Wittig said earlier this week, at a discussion in Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council. Wittig and his colleagues from France and the UK said Trump had not persuaded their governments to renegotiate the JCPOA.

North Korea and Iran "are two very different and distinct problems," treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Sigal Mandelker told a Senate Banking Committee hearing yesterday.

The administration to date has certified Iran's compliance with the JCPOA, as did the UN nuclear watchdog the IAEA. But the State Department now qualifies its certification, describing Iran's compliance as "tactical" or "technical" — terms meant to indicate the US argument that Iran is violating the spirit of the agreement.

Senior US defense officials, including Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, General Joseph Dunford, in recent weeks went on record publicly confirming that Iran has been complying with the JCPOA, without qualifications.

Iran since the JCPOA went into effect in January 2016 recaptured most of its export markets and increased production by about 900,000 b/d to 3.83mn b/d in August.

The president's decision not to certify Iran's compliance would not mean an automatic re-imposition of sanctions on that country's oil sector. Congress will have 60 days to decide by a majority vote whether to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.

The administration could allow some of the previously waived nuclear sanctions to take effect, or it can selectively re-impose sanctions on some of the entities, such as banks or civilian airlines.

"Iran likely would continue to implement the agreement as long as sanctions are not reimposed and its economy is, therefore, not damaged by them," specialists with Congressional Research Service wrote in a recent brief.

"We will make the appropriate decisions based on the circumstances" if the US withdraws from the JCPOA, Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on 27 September.

Zarif and secretary of state Rex Tillerson met in New York on 20 September, during a JCPOA joint commission meeting. But the two did not negotiate directly.

"The Iranian people are a very well educated, very sophisticated population. And foreign minister Zarif certainly is in that category," Tillerson said.

Trump's anti-Iran speech at the UN "set the bar very low and not throwing shoes at each other was good enough" for the meeting with Tillerson, Zarif said. "That we achieved."

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