U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton proposes Trump pitch Iran pact to Congress

If nuclear deal decertified, lawmakers can push allies to seek different terms

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., leaves a meeting of Republican senators Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., leaves a meeting of Republican senators Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- Arkansas' junior U.S. senator on Tuesday offered President Donald Trump a path to distance himself from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran without immediately quitting it, imposing new sanctions or carrying out military action.

Tom Cotton, a Republican, said Trump should "decertify" Iran's compliance with the agreement in a report required by Congress every 90 days and next due on Oct. 15. That, Cotton said, would let Congress approve a list of demands that the president could then press European allies who are part of the accord -- and reluctant to leave it -- to accept.

"The Congress and president should lay out how the deal should change and the consequences for Iran," Cotton, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday evening in Washington at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. "The world needs to know we are serious, we are willing to walk away, we are willing to impose sanctions and a lot more than that. And they'll know that when the president declines to certify the deal, and not before."

The 2-year-old accord lifted a range of international sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Cotton and other critics say it fails to take into account the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program and by its efforts in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen to support leaders or groups opposed to the U.S. and its allies.

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Trump campaigned against the agreement reached by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and has signaled increasing frustration after twice this year certifying Iran's compliance with the accord in earlier reports to Congress. He told the Wall Street Journal in July that he expected to find Iran not in compliance this month, and his aides have since sought to explain what the consequences of that could be.

Cotton stressed that decertifying Iran isn't necessarily the same as leaving the deal. He said that after Trump's decision, Congress would act to lay out key requirements of a revised Iran agreement.

"Their missile program alone warns us that they continue to seek nuclear weapons," Cotton said.

Citing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments about the accord, Cotton said the U.S. should "fix it or nix it."

Cotton said that while he'd be willing to give diplomacy time to work, economic sanctions and military action remain options.

"Calibrated strikes" against Iran are a possible option, Cotton said. If the Iranians "don't change their behavior they will not have a nuclear infrastructure. If we are forced to take action, the United States has the ability to totally destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure."

Cotton went on to say he thought the U.S. could "contain" any retaliatory behavior from Iran over nuclear strikes, such as the increased transfer of weapons to militant groups in the Middle East or activation of terrorist cells.

"Better to have no deal at all than one that compromises our security, emboldens Iran and encourages nuclear proliferation across the Middle East," Cotton said.

Information for this article was contributed by Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 10/04/2017

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