Just the Facts

Deadline Looms on Iran Nuclear Deal

By No Labels
May 8, 2018 | Blog

President Trump has a major decision to make this week with the looming May 12 deadline to recertify the nuclear deal with Iran.

The deal stipulates Iran will limit its nuclear weapons capability in return for an end to international sanctions that largely locked the country out of world financial and trading markets. It was signed in 2015 by then-President Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran. However, because it is an agreement rather than an official treaty (which requires a vote in Congress), the president must regularly “recertify” that Iran is living up to its end of the bargain.

Trump has been critical of the agreement since the presidential campaign, saying that it does not go far enough to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities. He has called it “the worst deal ever.” As the May 12 deadline approaches, here’s what you need to know.


What’s in the deal?

The deal limited Iran’s stockpile of the enriched uranium required to make nuclear weapons, curbed its capability to make more, and curtailed its ability to create weapons-grade plutonium. Most of the limitations last 15 years and subject Iran to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations lifted economic sanctions on Iran, increasing its access to world markets and foreign investment. This process began in 2016, when inspectors said Iran was in compliance with the deal and sanctions were lifted.


Support and opposition

Many countries are impacted by the deal and have sought to influence the president directly. The leaders of France and Germany have traveled to Washington to urge Trump to stick with the agreement. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson appeared on Fox News and wrote an op-ed in The New York Times this week. “At this delicate juncture, it would be a mistake to walk away from the nuclear agreement and remove the restraints that it places on Iran,” he wrote.

Others believe the deal has been flawed from the start and that the United States should walk away. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued fiercely against the deal, saying that it does not go far enough to prevent a nuclear-capable Iran. “A deal that enables Iran to keep and hide all its nuclear weapons know-how is a horrible deal,” he said. Of course, Iran itself has also lobbied to maintain the deal. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the U.S. will have “historic regret” if it pulls out.


What happens next?

World markets are already anticipating the effects if the president pulls the U.S. out of the deal, which could limit Iran’s ability to sell oil and restrict foreign investment in Iran. Oil prices shot to $70 a barrel this week for the first time since 2014. Some have even warned that U.S. gasoline prices could rise, though Iran does not supply a large portion of the world’s oil.

Of course, the big questions will be what lies ahead for Iran’s nuclear capability and the future of U.S. and international sanctions. Iran has said that it will remain committed to the deal, as long as other countries do the same—although Iran was not always truthful about the state of its nuclear program in the past. “What Iran wants is our interests to be guaranteed by its non-American signatories,” Rouhani said, adding “In that case, getting rid of America’s mischievous presence will be fine for Iran.” President Trump has said that he is not opposed to negotiating a new deal with more stringent limits on Iranian nuclear activity—and that addresses Iranian missile proliferation—though that idea has received a cold reception from Iran.


Why is this happening now?

This is taking place now because the deal calls for regular recertification. The reason President Trump makes that decision—and can thus remove the United States unilaterally—is that the Iran deal is not a formal treaty. If it were a treaty, it would have required the consent of Congress both to join the deal and to leave it. Instead, the Obama administration signed onto an accord, which did not require congressional approval. The only action by Congress on the Iran deal was when Senate Democrats successfully blocked a Republican resolution to reject it. As such, the Iranian nuclear deal is subject to recertification by the president and does not require any congressional action.

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