By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Ben Cardin, one of a handful of Senate Democrats who opposed the Iran nuclear deal, urged the Trump administration not to pull out of it — the latest indication of congressional resistance to killing the agreement.
“If we violate a U.N. resolution, in the eyes of the international community, do we have any credibility?” Cardin asked Wednesday September 27, at a monthly meeting he holds with foreign policy reporters, referring to the Security Council resolution that undergirds the deal. “I don’t understand the strategy to set up the potential of the United States walking away from a nuclear agreement.”
Cardin, who is Jewish and the top Democrat on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, was one of four Senate Democrats who opposed the 2015 deal, which trades sanctions relief for Iran’s rollback of its nuclear program.
He warned the administration to stick to the deal as long as Iran is abiding by it. President Donald Trump has called the agreement one of the worst he ever encountered and intimated he might kill it or at least open it up to renegotiation.
Cardin said he was speaking for many opponents of the deal.
“We thought it was the wrong decision,” he said, “but we want to see it implemented.”
Trump has said his decision on what to do with the deal will be known by next month. The president can declare Iran is not complying with the agreement under a law that Cardin co-authored that requires the president to periodically certify Iran is abiding by the pact. That would give Congress 60 days to reimpose sanctions — effectively leaving it up to lawmakers whether to withdraw from the deal. The certification is due by Oct. 15.
Cardin said kicking the ball to Congress would be an abdication of executive responsibility.
“This is not a congressional agreement, this is an agreement entered into by the president,” he said.
Trump may also unilaterally stop the deal simply by refusing to waive sanctions.
Cardin echoed warnings issued earlier this week by European ambassadors that there is little appetite among U.S. allies to end the deal.
“It’s pretty universal that our friends don’t want us to walk away from the agreement,” he said.
Cardin last week joined six other Senate Democrats in top security positions in a letter to administration officials demanding evidence that Iran is not in compliance. U.N. nuclear inspectors have repeatedly certified Iranian compliance.
The resistance to ending the deal is not confined to Democrats. The top foreign policy Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Ed Royce of California, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said earlier this month that he would prefer to keep the deal in place. He added that Trump should “enforce the hell out of it.”
And on Wednesday in the House, a Republican, Rep. Francis Rooney of Florida, and a Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, introduced a bill that would devolve oversight of the agreement on a bipartisan commission to include 16 lawmakers — equally split between Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate — and four executive branch officials.
Connolly in a joint news release with Rooney indicated that the aim of the commission would be to protect the deal from the whims of the president.
“Congress has a role to play in effective oversight of this agreement, and we must assert that role regardless of whether the President certifies Iran’s compliance,” he said.
Trump derided the deal last week during the U.N. General Assembly as one of the worst he had ever encountered, and he was joined in that assessment by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump is also under pressure from some conservatives to kill the deal.
This week, a letter from 45 national security experts urged Trump to quash the deal, hewing to a plan drafted by John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. Among the signers was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
Like the European ambassadors who warned against pulling out of the deal, Cardin urged Trump to use the available tools to pressure Iran to modify its behavior, outside the parameter of the nuclear agreement, including a range of sanctions targeting Iran’s missile testing and its military adventurism.
“Seeking the support of our allies to isolate Iran for its non-nuclear activity,” he said. “That should be our strategy.”