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White House Must Decide Whether To Waive Sanctions Against Iran

Sep 14, 2017
Originally published on September 14, 2017 6:39 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today is the deadline for the White House to decide whether to continue to waive economic sanctions against Iran. Now, doing so is part of the 2015 nuclear deal, but President Trump has criticized that deal. And even if he decides to waive sanctions for now, the deal could still be scrapped next month. Let's bring in NPR's Peter Kenyon. He is following all of this from Istanbul. Hey there, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Good morning. Give us a little bit more detail. Explain what exactly this deadline is today.

KENYON: Right. Well, you know, usually when we talk about the nuclear deal the question is, is Iran abiding by its terms? But this is a deadline for the U.S. to live up to one of its commitments, and that's keeping the sanctions lifted. That requires these periodic presidential waivers because only Congress can actually repeal the sanctions permanently, and they haven't done that. But the president can keep issuing these waivers. It has the same effect. But President Trump is now in charge of that decision, and he hasn't been very happy about it. So far he has continued with the waivers, and now it's time for him to do it again.

KELLY: But he has complained more and more every time, every - this comes around every three months, and he's made clear that he's liking it less and less. Do we have any insight into what decision he may come to today?

KENYON: Well, I mean, it's a prediction of course. Take it for what it's worth. But even critics of the deal are saying, yes, he probably will continue to waive sanctions this time. One reason might be nobody wants to be blamed for being the one to actually pull the plug on this deal. The strategy seems to be increased pressure on Iran, maybe force it to walk away. But as you said before, even if these sanctions are waived today and they're still lifted, both critics and supporters say next month there's another deadline coming up that could be critical.

KELLY: Yeah. The deadline next month is another U.S. decision, and this is the U.S. weighing-in on whether Iran is holding up its end of the bargain?

KENYON: Exactly. And it's not part of the agreement. That's kind of important to note. This was imposed by Congress, which says every 90 days the president has to certify that Iran still in compliance. He did that in July, but President Trump said at the time he didn't like it and he wanted the option to not certify next time. Well, next time is October 15th, and there are signs, including some comments from Trump himself, that he's preparing to find Iran non-compliant even though the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has said eight times in a row now that Iran is in compliance.

KELLY: What would that mean big-picture, Peter? I mean, if - if the U.S. says Iran is not complying with the deal, does that mean the deal falls apart?

KENYON: Well, that's what everybody's trying to figure out now. It's kind of a scramble. Remember this is a congressional requirement not part of the deal itself, but it does trigger a 60-day window for Congress to reimpose all the sanctions that have been lifted by these waivers. In fact, there's a bill to do that. It's ready to go. It only needs a simple majority vote, likely to pass if it came up. So that wouldn't necessarily end the deal in and of itself, to answer your question. Now, Europe, Russia and China could choose to keep trading, but banking sanctions could make things very complicated. In short, the deal would be in very uncertain territory.

KELLY: Very uncertain territory, and so many moving parts. Has the - has the Trump administration spelled out in detail recently what exactly their biggest complaints are with with keeping the deal in place?

KENYON: Well, there are a couple main points both inside and outside the administration. Now, critics don't like the exclusive focus on the nuclear issue. They say what about its support for militias? Tehran's own ballistic missile program, it's meddling in other countries in the region. That's one thing. And the other thing mainly is that even on the nuclear weapons issue there is no guarantee that Iran doesn't have some kind of secret program for weapons out there somewhere. It is the most robust inspection regime anywhere, but it's still not perfect. And so that's the debate that's going on with the supporters saying, yes, it's not perfect but it's so much better than what you had before, why would you want to scrap it now?

KELLY: Thank you, Peter.

KENYON: You're welcome.

KELLY: That is NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting on all the moving parts of the Iran nuclear deal and on deadlines looming today and next month, reporting from his base there in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.