Trump's Decertification of Iran Nuclear Deal Isolates and Weakens U.S.

Posted Oct. 18, 2017

MP3 Interview with Jamal Abdi, policy director with the National Iranian American Council, conducted by Scott Harris


President Donald Trump announced on Oct. 13 that he is formally “decertifying” the international nuclear agreement with Iran. While Trump has stated that “The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States ever entered into,” he declined to terminate the Iran nuclear agreement. Instead, he moved the issue to Congress, where legislators will engage in a 60-day period of debate on whether or not to re-impose economic sanctions against Iran that had been in effect before the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. Re-imposition of the sanctions will effectively withdraw the U.S. from the nuclear agreement.

While Trump has repeatedly stated that Iran has violated the “spirit” of the agreement, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran is in compliance. The other signatories to the deal: Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany all have maintained their support for the deal, just as Trump’s own Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Pentagon’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford have publicly expressed support for the agreement.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jamal Abdi, policy director with the National Iranian American Council, who assesses the fallout from Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and warns that a move to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement will isolate and undermine U.S. credibility around the world.

JAMAL ABDI: By decertifying, it doesn't do anything on its own. But what it does is it kicks off a 60-days period in Congress where there are expedited rules to introduces sanctions legislation to snap back the sanctions that were eased under the nuclear deal. Now, that 60-day window is open and what it means it that if the majority or minority leaders in either the House or the Senate – if they introduce legislation that specifically snaps back the nuclear sanctions – no other sanctions, only the sanctions that were lifted under the deal – that legislation is guaranteed to get a vote. It can't be stopped in committee, it goes to the floor in the Chamber it's introduced in, it gets a vote it gets passed to the other Chamber and the key is that in the Senate, there is no filibuster. It is a straight, simple majority vote.

So unlike when the deal actually got through Congress and you had every single Republican voting against it, but they had to hit that 60-vote threshold. Now, we've got this simple majority, and so, this is sort of a conundrum that this Congress has had under Trump – this Republican Congress – his responsibility of governing. So really, nobody in Congress, even those people who oppose the deal, they don't actually want to kill the thing, they just want to rack up these political points and say how much they hate it. 

But what Donald Trump has effectively done unwittingly is kind of call their bluff and now it's up to either Kevin McCarthy in the House or Mitch McConnell in the Senate, if they introduce that snap-back legislation, it's going to get a vote. Either enough Republicans are going to have to vote to protect the deal, or they vote against it; the sanctions snap-back and then the U.S. is then in violation of the deal.

That means basically, the U.S. exits the deal and then we find out okay, can the deal be salvaged by just, you know Europe, Russia, China and Iran. Or does Iran end up wanting to back out of elements of the deal? And it's sort of a nightmare. Nobody really knows how that process plays out.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What's the likely response in Iran to this ongoing process in the United States that jeopardizes this nuclear agreement? Especially from the hardline factions within the Tehran government?

JAMAL ABDI: For the hardliners, this a "I told you so" moment. The supreme leader, Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei, who has final say over these things. What the supreme leader said was, "Okay you can go ahead with these negotiations, that's fine. But at the end of the day, you can't trust the United States. Even if we deal with the nuclear issue, they're just going to pivot and say there's some other reason that they're our enemy. And so, this a futile exercise. But you go ahead with it, I'm not going to stop you."

And now, they're really saying, "I told you so." But I think inside of Iran, the challenge here is that actually, really, it sort of empowers the hard-liners and it sort of forces (Iranian President) Hassan Rouhani and the moderates – they've actually had to ... Rouhani actually sort of challenged the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and the hardline military wing in Iran, challenged them in his election, which is unprecedented and now, after what Trump did, he's actually having to stand up to the IRGC.

So you sort of see the homogenization of the politics in Iran because of Trump's move.

BETWEEN THE LINES: One last quick question. If either Congress or Donald Trump abrogate this international nuclear agreement with Iran, what are the consequences for U.S. credibility in the world? And I'm thinking about any hope there might be for some kind of nuclear control agreement with North Korea? It's hard to understand how a country would approach the United States with Donald Trump in the White House to sign onto such an agreement.

JAMAL ABDI: Yeah, and we're sort of talking about pulling up a thread of all of our diplomatic tools here. I think some of the damage has already been done. Now there's a question of, well, we'll deal with one president, and then the next president – who knows who's going be elected. And they apparently don't feel that they are beholden to the agreements that the country signed previously. So I think that, especially, when we look at North Korea, where this is going to be a huge diplomatic undertaking if we're going to able to solve that challenge peacefully.

And all this has done is just sap our credibility and sapped our leverage to be able to ask for anything now that we're not a trustworthy actor. So I think it's extremely damaging to diplomacy and it sort of puts the U.S. in the position of the only tool that you can actually view as credible is military force. And that's a really dark prospect, I think, going forward – not just for this presidency but for administrations to come, potentially.

For more information, visit the National Iranian American Council website at

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