President Donald Trump signed off on the Iran nuclear deal earlier this month for what he says is the last time, leaving it up to Congress and the international community to come up with a solution to strengthen the Obama-era agreement. A new bill in the House aims to do just that.
Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Liz Cheney (R-WY) have released the Iran Freedom Policy and Sanctions Act, which aims to toughen policy towards Iran's ballistic missile program and the deal's (also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) existing nuclear provisions. It's the first bill to be released since Trump's ultimatum, but it's not the only one in the works.
"Congress now has a responsibility. The president has made it clear that he has no more capacity to kick the can down the lane anymore," Roskam told me in an interview. "So now it's Congress' responsibility and I propose that we take this responsibility up right now."
Roskam's bill is effectively a preliminary answer to a bill that is supposedly being developed by Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively. Corker and Cardin's previous Iran legislation got the U.S. to this point, according to Roskam. He sees his bill as an alternative to the status quo.
A Roskam staffer characterized the bill as "the Republican solution." A second staffer added that it makes clear what the House is going to accept going forward on finding a solution. "We wanted to be forward leaning," said the staffer.
"The remedy is as we are proposing to revisit the ballistic missile question, to revisit the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps] question, to revisit the human rights question and to make sure that Iran is never a nuclear power," said Roskam.
The bill has four major provisions.
First, it addresses the ballistic missile issue by snapping back pre-deal sanctions on Iran if it pursues activities related to obtaining nuclear-capable missiles, including missiles launches. Iran critics pushed for tougher provisions on Iran's notorious ballistic missile programs during negotiations in 2014 and 2015, but they were not included. The explanation at the time was that the deal should stick to nuclear issues only.
Second, Roskam's bill puts stricter provisions on Iran's nuclear program by snapping back sanctions should the regime do anything to obtain enough weapons-grade uranium or plutonium for a weapon within 12 months. This time period is known in the expert community as "break out time." One of the goals of the deal was to extend Iran's break out time from three months to one year. The theory being that this would be enough time to catch the regime should it cheat before it's too late.
Third, the bill drastically increases the international community's ability to inspect Iran's nuclear and military facilities. Critics pushed for these "anytime, anywhere" inspections as the deal was being formulated, but the JCPOA's final text limited how, when and where inspections could take place.
Finally, it adds new sanctions against the regime for its support of terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and human rights abuses. Specifically, it targets any business or other entities in which Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij Force have a 20 percent interest or more. The previous threshold was 50 percent.
Overall, the bill is significantly tougher than the original JCPOA. But that's what might make it controversial among the deal's supporters who may see it as a bridge too far. Cardin was one of the few Democrats who voted against the deal, but he predicted earlier this month that a bill like Roskam's would pop up.
"I would agree that this legislation -- if we work it out and it has broad consensus -- it's going to have consensus from center, and therefore you may have members on the extreme that could disrupt it," said Cardin, as reported by Politico.
Roskam does not have any Democratic support thus far. And they don't expect much support from the European signatories of the deal, either.
"We've seen the [Europeans] sell their soul to the devil," said a Roskam staffer, explaining that many European companies have invested heavily in Iran since sanctions were lifted. "There's a huge business looking constituency."
Support from more moderate elements in Congress could also be limited, consider the Roskam bill will have to compete with the eventual Corker-Cardin version. Either way, both sides have four months to come up with something before Trump's waiver expires.