Trump takes first shot at Iran nuclear deal
Washington, 13 October (Argus) — US president Donald Trump is expected today to find that the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in the US' national interests.
Such a move is unlikely to have an immediate effect on global crude markets. But Trump also is expected to ask Congress to extend nuclear-related sanctions on Iranian oil exports to apply to Tehran's ballistic missile program.
Trump's announcement will not formally end US participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the international agreement that last year lifted restrictions on crude exports from Opec's third-largest producer. The White House, instead, will invoke the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to declare that the relief of nuclear-related sanctions is no longer is in the US interests.
That law requires the administration to certify every 90 days that Iran complies with the agreement and that it remains in the US national interests. A statement that the JCPOA is no longer in the US interests does not automatically reimpose the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.
But it triggers a 60-day timeline for Congress to decide, by a majority vote, whether to re-impose those sanctions that are written into four separate US laws.
The JCPOA, which took effect in January 2016, lifted restrictions the US and EU placed on Iran's crude exports in exchange for greater monitoring of that country's nuclear program by UN nuclear watchdog the IAEA. The international agency has certified Iran's compliance with the agreement, as did other JCPOA signatories: China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK.
The US administration has formally concurred with those conclusions, even though Trump and secretary of state Rex Tillerson have claimed that Iran has violated the spirit of the agreement.
The administration can, regardless of what Congress does, reimpose the nuclear-related sanctions on its own. But that could leave the US being viewed as abandoning the JCPOA unilaterally.
Senior congressional leaders have expressed willingness to discuss changes to Iran sanctions laws. But Congress' agenda already is packed with high-priority requests, including a major overhaul of the US tax code.
And the administration's fine point of not breaking the JCPOA while setting the stage for Congress to potentially do so may be lost on its foreign partners.