Congress Seeks Deadline on Iran Accepting Tougher Nuclear Deal Standards

Bill would reimpose all sanctions if Iran refuses to comply in six months

Rep. Peter Roskam
Rep. Peter Roskam / Getty Images
October 13, 2017

Congress is set to consider new legislation that would require Iran to accept tough new conditions on the landmark nuclear deal or face a rash of harsh new economic sanctions aimed at thwarting the Islamic Republic's continued nuclear buildup, according to a draft of new legislation exclusively viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

On the heels on President Donald Trump's announcement that he will decertify Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement, top GOP lawmakers are already working on legislation that would compliment the White House's announcement and move forward with efforts to harshly penalize Tehran if it does not accept rigid new standards on its nuclear activities within the next six months, according to a copy of draft legislation circulating in the House of Representatives.

The new legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), would reimpose all economic sanctions lifted by the former Obama administration as part of the nuclear agreement if Iran refuses to comply with tough new standards restricting its ballistic missile program, arms buildup, and failure to permit access to a range of military sites suspected of engaging in nuclear work.

The legislation also would effectively kill provisions of the nuclear agreement known as sunset clauses. These are portions of the deal that would rollback restrictions on Iran's advanced nuclear research and weapons buildup within the next five to six years.

Trump, as well as allies in Congress, maintains the original nuclear accord contains several key flaws that permit Iran to cheat on the deal and receive sweetheart bonuses—such as sanctions relief and other assets—despite evidence of multiple violations of the agreement.

Sources who spoke to the Free Beacon about the effort to tighten the deal said that many in Congress would be willing to reimpose all key sanctions on Iran if it does not agree to abide by the stricter enforcement regulations.

"The days of appeasing the Mullah's every wish and sitting back and watching as the terrorist state goes nuclear are over," said one senior congressional official intimately familiar with the new proposal. "Congress overwhelmingly opposed Obama's disastrous deal with Iran. Now's the time to assert our constitutional responsibility to defend our nation and use all tools of U.S. power to permanently prevent an nuclear armed Iran."

This new legislation is similar to the policy approach advocated by senior Trump administration officials, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who told reporters late Thursday the administration is looking to create a parallel nuclear deal that gives Congress a larger role in ensuring Iranian compliance.

These would include "trigger points that are specific to the nuclear program itself, but also deals with things like their ballistic missile program," according to Tillerson.

Roskam's new legislation, called the JCPOA Improvement Act of 2017, seeks to do precisely this.

In addition to banning Iran from developing, testing, and operating ballistic missile technology—which was never addressed in the original nuclear agreement – the new legislation would impose even stricter regulations on the amount of nuclear enrichment Iran can legally engage in.

It also would stop Iran from installing advanced nuclear centrifuges that can enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon, much faster than older versions of this equipment. Under the original nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, Iran would have been granted the right to operate advanced centrifuges within the next several years.

Congress also is seeking to address Iran's development of heavy water nuclear reactors that provide a secondary pathway to a nuclear weapon via the use of plutonium, a by-product of such equipment, according to the draft legislation and sources who spoke to the Free Beacon.

The Obama administration had worked to ensure that, under the agreement, Iran retained its right to operate such reactors, despite opposition in Congress and elsewhere. Iran has already inked several deals with Russia to assist in the construction of new light and heavy water reactors, though this new legislation could complicate that matter.

Another key portion of the original agreement that has been vehemently criticized by Trump and congressional allies surrounds caveats that give Iran more than a month before consenting to inspections of its nuclear sites.

Roskam's legislation would mandate that Iran permit unfettered, unannounced, and indefinite access to all of Iran's contested nuclear sites, including military spots that have been completely off-access to international nuclear inspectors.

Iran opposes such proposals, claiming that its military sites will never been opened to the international community.

If Iran does not agree to the new restrictions proposed in the legislation, Congress has the ability to reimpose all sanctions that were lifted as part of the original accord. This represents a major new tool for Congress as it works to thwart Iran's continued military endeavors across the Middle East and its pursuit of advanced new weaponry.

Under the new legislation, any future attempt to rescind these new restrictions would be subject to a vote in the United Nations Security Council, according to the bill.