By Paige McGlauflin
WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday that the U.S. should not leave the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but rather “enforce the hell out of” it.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) made the statement during a committee hearing Wednesday on “Confronting the Full Range of Iranian Threats.” Royce has made similar comments during interviews in the weeks prior, but his latest remarks come soon before President Donald Trump is expected not to recertify the deal to Congress.
Under domestic law, Trump must certify Iran’s compliance every 90 days. If he does not, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose domestic sanctions removed under the deal. Trump has twice before certified Iran’s compliance.
“As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it,” Royce said in his opening statement. “Let’s work with allies to make certain that international inspectors have better access to possible nuclear sites… And we should address the fundamental sunset shortcoming, as our allies have recognized.”
The “sunset” provisions are parts of the deal that stand to expire after 10 or more years.
Royce said that no matter Trump’s decision, he must explain his reasoning.
“Whatever he decides, it is critical that the president lay out the facts. He should explain what his decision means, and what it doesn’t. And then, I hope … the president will define a responsible path forward to confront the full range of threats posed by Iran,” said Royce.
Other committee Republicans stood by Trump’s assessment of the deal as one of the worst negotiated in U.S. history. Trump has continuously criticized the deal and advocated for the U.S. to pull out of it or demand it be renegotiated.
Iranian officials have said Iran will not renegotiate the pact, which it agreed to with six other world powers — the U.S., China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.
“If the ill-wishing side, our rival and enemy, leaves an agreement, this is not a defeat for us, but rather a defeat for the opposite side,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, according to state media.
Democrats on the committee agreed with Royce, arguing that though the deal was not well crafted, it was agreed upon with the U.S. and its allies and should be abided by.
”I was on the losing side of that debate,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “But since the deal was reached, like the chairman, I’ve called for it to be strictly enforced while we look for other ways to address the range of non-nuclear challenges coming out of Iran.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) compared backing out of the deal to returning a car to a dealership and the dealer keeping both the car and the money.
“We unfroze 100 billion dollars of their money,” he said, referencing the amount of funds the U.S. Treasury estimated Iran would be able to access with the lifting of 2012 U.S. sanction. “We delivered over a billion dollars in currency. We can renounce this deal, Iran keeps the money, and is then liberated from all of the restrictions on their nuclear program.”
The panel of four witnesses testifying at the hearing agreed that Iran was violating at least part of the deal, if not all of it.
James Jeffrey, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Turkey and Albania, said Iran was complying with the deal but not with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 which was agreed to in tandem and called upon Iran to not “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology” for up to eight years after the deal’s signing.
Jake Sullivan, who participated in the original secret talks with Iran for the deal in 2013 and served as National Security Adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden, said the deal was working as intended.
“Of course, it is not a perfect agreement,” said Sullivan. “Diplomacy requires compromise, and compromise means giving up more than you would like and getting less than you would like. The key question is, did we get what we need? And the answer, I believe, is yes.”
European countries involved that also negotiated the deal are currently working on a package to maintain the deal if the Trump decides against recertifying it. It includes plans to lobby the U.S. Congress against reimposing sanctions.