President Donald Trump recently decertified Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran nuclear deal. The President’s decertification comes as part of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a law that requires the President to certify that Iran is complying with the terms of the deal every 90 days. Congress now has 60 days to determine how to respond to Iran’s non-compliance.
With the President’s decertification of the Iran nuclear deal, Congress has an opportunity to create new leverage against Iran, forge a unified position of strength with our allies, and break out of this unworkable and doomed status quo. We can create real pressure on Iran to not only comply with the terms of the agreement and improve the terms, but to curb its threatening behavior in the region.
While the Iran deal was sold as a comprehensive turning point in relations between Iran and the West, it has been a flawed document since the moment it was crafted. It ignored Iran’s ballistic missile program, allowing it to continue developing and testing better, longer-range ballistic missiles. There is no legitimate reason for Iran to possess these missiles except for carrying a nuclear warhead. It also failed to force Iran to grant inspectors access to all nuclear research and military facilities. Open access must be a requirement if Iran wants to prove it is acting in good faith. The deal also contains a sunset clause that would eliminate restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in 10 to 15 years. As long as Tehran remains in the hand of an aggressive theocracy that supports terrorism, limits on Iranian nuclear activities should never end.
Everyone recognizes that these aspects of the nuclear deal are flawed. The bipartisan majority in Congress that opposed the Iran deal back in 2015 should work with the President to demand Iran change these terms or face serious consequences. With our European, Israeli and Arab allies standing behind renegotiating the deal, Russia and China would have to choose between a better deal and being isolated in an alliance with the radical ayatollahs. Iran has shown they are susceptible to sustained pressure, and I’m confident that renewed American-led pressure can curb some of their aggressive behavior.
Beyond the nuclear deal, there are a number of challenges we face regarding Iran. Prior to the nuclear deal, the Obama Administration hoped that over time the Iranian regime would moderate their behavior and become a respectable member of the global community. That has not happened. Since the deal’s implementation, Iran has redoubled its efforts to exploit existing conflicts across the Middle East and support terrorist groups who kill and terrorize innocent civilians and our allies.
Iran has been a staunch supporter of the murderous Assad regime in Syria. They have equipped, trained and financed Hezbollah, one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups that has killed hundreds of Americans. Due to Iran’s support, Hezbollah now operates freely in both southern Syria and Lebanon. Iran finances and arms the Houthi rebels in Yemen who have created a massive humanitarian disaster of disease, starvation and death. Iran has also supported Shi’a militias in Iraq that terrorize Sunni populations and destabilize an already weakened Iraqi central government.
We have pushed back against these actions in a variety of ways. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has held a number of hearings to discuss our strategy to counter Iran across the region, passed a series of sanctions bills to give the President more tools to pressure the Iranians, and provided material support and training for our allies to fight their terrorist militias. Diplomatically, we have also pushed our European allies to take similar steps with sanctions and those efforts are having an effect.
Even without nuclear weapons, Iran is the most serious threat we face in the Middle East. If we do not act decisively in this moment, Iran’s reach, influence, and support for terrorists will plague the world for years to come. During this 60-day review period, I’ll work with my colleagues to forge a unified path forward to pressure Iran to fix the nuclear deal and end their support for international terrorism.
Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.
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