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What It Means To 'Decertify' The Iran Deal


Next Sunday is the deadline for the Trump administration to tell Congress if it believes that Iran is in compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. And the president is expected to announce this week that he will decertify that agreement, saying that it is not in the U.S. national interest. To understand what that means and what happens next, we're joined by Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank. Thanks for taking the time this morning.

BARBARA SLAVIN: Sure, my pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So decertification - could you tell me exactly what that means?

SLAVIN: Well, I think the first thing that it's important to recognize is that this is an internal American matter. This was legislation passed by a Republican-led Congress that was suspicious of a Democratic administration that had signed this nuclear agreement. Now we're in the odd situation where we have a Republican president who says he is going to decertify when this was really, I think, not what Congress had in mind when the legislation was passed. In and of itself, it does not violate the Iran nuclear deal, but it will cast a very big shadow over it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does that mean that the Iran deal will come to an end? Does it have any actual impact?

SLAVIN: No, it doesn't mean that. Under the agreement, the United States - the president has to waive certain sanctions against Iran every 120 days. And President Trump actually put out the necessary waivers in September, so he doesn't really have to do anything until early next year. But under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act - so-called INARA - which Congress passed, Congress could impose new sanctions against Iran in the next 60 days if the president decides to decertify it. The main thing it does is that it puts a cloud over the entire agreement. It creates more uncertainty, and that's likely to have an impact on European businesses that are returning to Iran, on Asian businesses that are returning to Iran. And it just makes an agreement that was already somewhat uncertain after Trump's election even more uncertain.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You say it opens the door for Congress to impose new sanctions. How likely is that?

SLAVIN: Well, that's a really good question. I think it's interesting Congress, which was not very enthusiastic about this deal when President Obama agreed to it, now seemed suddenly to like it. And I think you can make a certain analogy, perhaps, to health care and to Obamacare. It was very easy for the Republicans and others to oppose this when Obama was the president, and he would veto any legislation against it. Now that the responsibility is in Republican hands, we're beginning to see some prominent Republicans - people like Bob Corker, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee and others - suggest that, you know, maybe we should stick with this deal. Another one is Ed Royce who's chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. So it's not at all clear what Congress would do. They might pass entirely new legislation that would take away this requirement that President Trump certify compliance by Iran every 90 days. This is something that the president obviously doesn't like.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly, why is the president doing this? I mean, Iran is complying with the terms of the deal, as we understand it.

SLAVIN: That's a really good question. The president says that Iran is doing a lot of other things that we don't like. Well, Iran has been doing a lot of other things that we don't like for a very long time. And decertifying the nuclear deal is not going to help that situation. In fact, it will most likely strengthen the most hardline elements in the Iranian government that don't trust the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council. She joined me on the line from France. Thank you so much.

SLAVIN: You are quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.