WASHINGTON, U.S. - As U.S. President Donald Trump gets set to deliver his highly anticipated announcement on the Iran nuclear deal, the Congress on Wednesday huddled up to strategize.
Ever since its inception, members of the Congress have squared off on the Iran nuclear deal and they are now preparing for what could be a make or break deal for the future of the Obama-era deal with Iran and other world powers.
On Wednesday evening, leading House Republicans huddled up with national security adviser H.R. McMaster for a classified briefing on the administration’s plan for the 2015 agreement.
At the end of the meeting, McMaster told reporters that the meeting had been “Great, thanks.”
Trump is widely expected to decertify Iran’s compliance, and if he does so, Congress will have 60 days to decide whether to “snap back” sanctions that were lifted in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program.
If sanctions were reimposed, the United States would be in breach of its commitments since the International Atomic Energy Agency has verified eight times so far that Iran has lived up to its end of the deal.
Further, such a decision would mean that the U.S. is walking away unilaterally.
Earlier in the day, House Democrats met with former secretary of state John F. Kerry and former energy secretary Ernest Moniz.
Kerry and Moniz were the primary negotiators of the deal made between Iran and six world powers.
According to reports, Wendy Sherman, another key negotiator, was also present as was Jacob J. Lew, the former Treasury secretary.
Ambassadors to the United States from France, Germany and Britain — three European nations that also were parties to the multilateral agreement were present and urged the United States not to abandon the deal.
Within Washington, Democrats have strongly opposed Trump’s determination that Iran is not meeting its commitments and insist the agreement must remain intact to survive.
Several key Democrats have suggested that there might be room to negotiate with Republicans about beefing up the deal without eviscerating it.
In 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed between Iran and the six-nation group including Russia, U.K., China, U.S., France and Germany.
The agreement on the settlement of the long-standing Iran nuclear problem led to the lifting of sanctions introduced against Iran due to its nuclear program by the UN Security Council, the U.S. and the European Union.
In return, Tehran obliged to limit its nuclear activity by placing it under international control.
The deal was launched in January 2016.
In a statement, Rep. Elliot Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would consider modifying the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act so the president certifies Iran’s compliance less frequently than every 90 days now, or using different standards.
He, however, did not comment on whether he would be open to other changes, but added that new conditions might violate the deal.
According to some lawmakers, Despite their opposition to Washington backing away from the deal, France, Germany and Britain, have told U.S. lawmakers that they could join discussions on constraining Iran’s long-term nuclear ambitions.
Republicans meanwhile have complained that the deal delays Iran’s nuclear ambitions but could allow Iran to resume its nuclear program after certain restrictions expire.
On its part, Iran has denied it wants to build a nuclear bomb.
While the agreement commits Iran to never build a nuclear bomb, various “sunset clauses” would allow Iran to amass greater stockpiles of fissile material that raise concerns.
For months now, Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and a recent addition - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been working on putting together a package to present to Congress.
On Wednesday, ahead of the big announcement, Cardin went to the State Department to meet with Tillerson. Cardin’s spokesman said the purpose of the meeting was to go over the administration’s plan for the nuclear deal.
Tillerson’s spokesman meanwhile stated that they discussed several issues, including Iran.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee has said, “The effect of what the president has done has really been to constrain our freedom of action, because steps we might have taken to constrain Iran’s malevolent activity will now be viewed through the prism of the president’s hostility to the nuclear deal. Ironically he may have limited our ability to confront Iran, rather than expand it.”