Will Congress Help Trump Kill the Iran Deal?
President Trump is just days away from his expected decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, leaving the deal — and a whole lot more — in the hands of Congress, says scholar William Beeman
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. President Trump is just days away from his expected decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal to Congress. What does this mean for the Iran nuclear deal? And what does it mean for the world? Joining me now is William Beeman, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, who has studied Iran for decades. Professor Beeman, welcome. Your sense of what is going on right now, just today, Iran has threatened to retaliate against the U.S. if it imposes new sanctions. Trump appears to be pressing ahead with these reports, that he’s gonna tell Congress that Iran is not in compliance.
WILLIAM BEEMAN: I think we have to be really careful when we talk about Iran, to understand that there are many, many centers of power in Iran. The so-called threat of retaliation came from the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, does not speak for the government as a whole.
AARON MATÉ: Fair enough.
WILLIAM BEEMAN: The so-called threat of retaliation is not real.
AARON MATÉ: Fair enough. Let’s talk about this decision that Trump is apparently about to make when it comes to reporting to Congress. He is about to tell Congress that he’s decertifying Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal, even though everyone knows and agrees with the fact that Iran is in compliance. What is going on here?
WILLIAM BEEMAN: There’s no question that Iran has complied fully with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In fact, a month ago the president also certified that Iran in fact was doing that. This act, the Iran Nuclear Compliance Act of 2015, asks the president to certify that the act is in the national interest of the United States, therefore it doesn’t have much to do at all with whether Iran is complying with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
What it has to do with is the United States declaring that Iran’s behavior is in some way in accord with American national interest. The president is allowed, under this act, to consider all kinds of things, whether Iran is supporting Assad in Syria, whether Iran is testing ballistic missiles, whether Iran is in accord with human rights regulations. There’s a whole grab bag, a whole Christmas tree of things that people have been upset with Iran about, that have absolutely nothing to do with the JCPOA.
AARON MATÉ: Just to underline that, even though the U.S. has signed onto this Iran nuclear deal, its Congress in 2015 passed a separate measure that would allow it to violate the deal for issues that are nothing to do with the deal itself.
WILLIAM BEEMAN: Well understand that if the president decertifies the JCPOA as being in the American national interest, this throws the ball back to Congress, if he does decertify it. In that case, Congress would have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran. The president is, in his decertification, is completely divorced from any reality regarding the JCPOA, [inaudible 00:03:43] it. That’s exactly why the administration has said, “We are not withdrawing from the JCPOA.” They’re throwing it back to Congress, and letting Congress do the dirty work if they wish to.
AARON MATÉ: Right, and to stress how bipartisan this is. I mean, President Obama did not veto this measure when it was passed. But of course, I don’t think he expected Donald Trump to be in the Oval Office. He also had little choice because it was passed so overwhelmingly by Congress, one could argue. Let me ask you, what potential position does this put the other [inaudible 00:04:19] to the nuclear deal, and because if the Congress decides to reinstate the old sanctions regime against Iran, wouldn’t that then obligate the U.S. to target those who are doing business with Iran? In other words, those who are doing business with Iran as part of the deal that the U.S. initially signed.
WILLIAM BEEMAN: The other partners to the agreement, the other negotiators in the agreement, the other P5+1 nations have made it very clear to the United States, that they will not reimpose sanctions themselves.
AARON MATÉ: What if they face sanctions as a result of the U.S. reinstating its old sanctions against Iran? Not just against Iran, but against those who do business with Iran?
WILLIAM BEEMAN: The problem, the way that the United States can frustrate anybody doing business with Iran is by saying that the United States banking system cannot be used in transactions with Iran. Already a number of European nations have [inaudible 00:05:18] banking facilities that have no branches or no business in the United States itself. This is increasingly what will happen. The United States is actually shooting itself in the foot, because what they’re doing is inviting nations to bypass the American banking system, and the American [inaudible 00:05:42] as an exchange [inaudible 00:05:42], in order to be able to continue to do business with [inaudible 00:05:47].
Business with Iran is extremely lucrative. It’s something that the United States should probably think seriously about, because Iran has a booming economy. The GDP growth rate in Iran for the last two years has been twice what it has been in the United States. Petrochemicals, all kinds of manufactory facilities, [inaudible 00:06:10] of 74 million people, very well-educated, anxious for Western goods, and with resources to be able to actually purchase them.
The United States, if it cuts itself off from Iran with these sanctions, it’s not gonna do anything to actually limit Iran’s economic activity because other nations will continue to [inaudible 00:06:36], will in fact isolate the United States further from the world market.
AARON MATÉ: Speaking of the world more broadly, if Trump goes ahead with this, and if Congress does end up reimposing sanctions, what does that mean for the world?
WILLIAM BEEMAN: Well it means that the United States has once again [inaudible 00:07:01] absolutely unreliable partner in international agreements. The complaint, on the part of the United States, even before the Trump administration, but the Trump administration in doing this, and not only blowing up this agreement, but also the Paris accords, and many other, and trade accords, many other international agreements, [inaudible 00:07:27] the United States is increasingly isolating itself from the world economy and from the world political [inaudible 00:07:33].
If the United States wants to reach some kind of an agreement with North Korea, the North Koreans will look at this and say, “Well, why should we do anything with the United States, because the United States is not good for standing by its own agreements, by standing by its own word?”
We are [inaudible 00:07:57] creating a situation where we are really the unreliable partner in international [inaudible 00:08:05], for us as a nation. It really is a very, very dangerous precedent for us to set.
AARON MATÉ: Professor William Beeman, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, thanks very much.
WILLIAM BEEMAN: You’re most welcome.
AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.