But the decision on certification ultimately rests with Trump, who has called the JCPOA, which was negotiated by the Obama administration, “the worst deal in history.” He and other critics of the agreement say the deal gives away too much to Iran in exchange for too little in return. They cite Iran’s support of violent actors like the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and elsewhere, the Houthis in Yemen, and Palestinian militant groups. Most importantly, they say, the deal leaves Iran free to resume its nuclear activities in 2025.
Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is a critic of the JCPOA, and he is advising the Trump administration. He told NPR on Thursday that Trump would “decertify the deal, but stay in it for now.” Later on Thursday, The Washington Post reported, citing “people briefed on an emerging White House strategy,” that Trump was planning to announce in a speech scheduled for next week that he would indeed decertify it. Dubowitz said that forcing congressional review in this way would allow the U.S. to “work to actually improve” the agreement. We need, he said, to “strengthen the deal, fix the deal, and get rid of some of the fatal flaws of the deal,” which put no limits on Iran’s support for terrorist groups or its missile testing, both of which have continued.
But both Iran and the Europeans have said that the deal cannot be renegotiated. They maintain that Iran is in compliance with the agreement—an assessment shared multiple times by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog.
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told me that critics of the deal “think they can squeeze concessions out of Iran through all of these histrionics. They can't. Iran will walk away if the U.S. tries to renegotiate. Iran will not renegotiate this deal and Europe will not renegotiate this deal.”
The European nations point out they had begun talks with Iran on its nuclear program in 2003, long before the U.S. became involved in the diplomatic effort. They say Iran will be unable, under the deal, to pursue nuclear weapons in 2025 when parts of the deal expire—and will be subject to sanctions if it does. This is because Iran is a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) and has agreed to abide by the pact’s additional protocol, which would, among other things, give international inspectors to more sites, including military installations, for perpetuity. They also say that despite its gaps on non-nuclear issues, the deal goes a long way toward satisfying many of the concerns the international community had about Iran’s nuclear program.
The Europeans “see this as their great diplomatic achievement, resolving a crisis that could have led to war through diplomatic means, through patient negotiations,” Slavin said. She said the Europeans have different views than Trump and other critics of the deal about what will ultimately transform Iran into a country that is easier to deal with for everyone. The Europeans, she said, point to the renewed economic activity in Iran and the return of major European companies that will, in their view, ultimately strengthen Iranian civil society. But, she added, there is a genuine philosophical difference, as well. “Europe believes in multilateralism,” she said. “Europe believes in diplomatic solutions.”