White House, Congress Scramble to Save Iran Nuclear Deal in Face of Opposition

Officials pushing to waive sanctions on hardline regime, IRGC's bank

Trump discusses Iran deal
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January 10, 2018

Senior White House officials and congressional leadership are scrambling to save the Iran nuclear deal and convince President Donald Trump to again waive key sanctions on the Islamic Republic despite opposition, according to multiple sources working on the matter who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

The White House is facing down a weekend deadline by which it must waive key economic sanctions on Iran in order to preserve the nuclear accord. While Trump has expressed frustration about the need save the deal, senior national security officials are working to convince him that waiving these sanctions is the best course of action.

On the congressional front, Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) is said to be working with Senate Democrats on new legislation to hold Iran accountable for its ongoing ballistic missile construction and other rogue activities. That bill, sources said, is failing to gain traction among Republicans due to what many described as a range of flaws that mainly serve to lock in the Iranian nuclear deal and prevent Trump from abandoning it.

The latest efforts involve a legislative push that would preserve the nuclear deal not only in the short term, but limit the ability of Trump and future presidents to ever exit the deal.

"It's pretty clear the people around the president are trying to sell him an Iranian Potemkin village of sorts," said one source close to both the White House and congressional negotiations on the matter. "There is no legislation that would fix the deal on the table, only legislation that would lock in the deal and even make it worse on issues like missiles."

Any legislation produced by Corker and Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) will fail to garner support from Republican opponents of the deal, such as Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.), and Marco Rubio (Fla.), the source said.

"Can't anybody get through to the president and let him know that Corker-Cardin will be opposed by most everyone on the right?" the source asked in frustration.

A spokesman for Corker told the Free Beacon that he continues to work with the White House on legislation to address pressing gaps in the Iran nuclear deal.

"Senator Corker remains engaged in productive discussions with the White House and a number of his colleagues in the Senate about the appropriate path forward, and our allies continue to be updated on relevant developments," the spokesman said.

As tension and discontent grows on the issue, some Republicans have proposed alternative plans that they believe would crack down on Iran's intransigent behavior and provide Trump with a pathway to abandon the deal and reimpose all sanctions on Iran.

"U.S.-Iran policy is facing a pivotal moment and U.S. policymakers must have a laser-like focus on our objectives to permanently prevent Iran from a nuclear weapons capability, to combat Iran's support for terrorism and to support those Iranian people in the streets protesting for a freer, more hopeful future," Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), the author of his own legislation to crack down more forcefully on Iran, told the Free Beacon.

"Congress' main goal currently is to fix the key flaws of the Iran nuclear deal; to that end, I'm drafting legislation to do so and, as we work on this matter, we must be dedicated to permanently preventing, not just delaying, Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state," Roskam said, criticizing what he described as weaker efforts being pushed by his colleagues.

"We should not settle for an inadequate legislative solution that fails to achieve our key objectives just for the sake of passing something," Roskam said. "If we can't improve it, we must not be afraid of walking away from this flawed nuclear deal."

Another source involved in the negotiations told the Free Beacon that the House's version of new legislation exposes key weaknesses with the effort spearheaded by Corker and Cardin.

"The House version of this bill, more than anything else, shows how hollow the Corker-Cardin law is," said the source, who has discussed the issue with the White House. "The House language is actually strong anti-Iran language and shows House Republicans will never accept the loopholes and pro-deal language that's coming from the Senate side. This thing is dead on arrival."

The legislation being pushed by Corker, Cardin, and other allies is being billed as a legislative fix to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, which has required the president to publicly certify Iran as in compliance with the deal every 90 days.

That requirement has caused increasing friction in the White House as senior national security officials and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson work to convince an increasingly frustrated Trump that he preserve a deal the president believes is flawed, sources said.

The White House is seeking to strip the 90-day recertification requirement from any new piece of legislation, according to those familiar with the negotiations.

While the bill is still in the works, sources said that Corker is privately telling White House officials the legislative effort is much further along than it actually is.

At this point, Republican leaders such as Cotton are not willing to back the bill, which would need his support in order to move forward, multiple sources said.

The legislation itself is being criticized for failing to adequately address outstanding issues such as Iran's continued test firing of ballistic missiles and other rogue activities.

The crux of the effort relies on saving the nuclear deal while forwarding some modest new penalties on Iran that supporters can tout as an improvement to the current version of INARA, according to those familiar with the negotiations.

Critics view the bill as containing multiple loopholes that would allow Iran to continue cheating on the deal without facing tough repercussions.

There is also dispute over portions of the bill that would allow Congress to use a simple majority to override any decision by Trump to fully reimpose sanctions on Iran, sources said.

White House and congressional officials believe that if they can demonstrate some sort of progress on a new bill it will convince Trump waive key sanctions on entities such as Iran's Central Bank, which funds the Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.

"President Trump claimed that 'Bob Corker gave us the Iran deal' compromise," said one veteran foreign policy adviser involved in the discussions. "Why would the administration think that Corker-Cardin 2.0 would turn out any better?"