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Steve Inskeep talks with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, who voted against the Iran nuclear deal, but now worries about the consequence if President Trump decertifies Iran’s compliance with the agreement.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So says President Trump, and now he faces a legal deadline – has until Sunday to certify that Iran is following a deal limiting its nuclear program. He has signaled that he intends to refuse, and if he does – if he does – it would trigger action in Congress that could potentially unravel the U.S. side of that deal. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland opposed this deal but is concerned now about losing it. He’s on the line. Senator, welcome back to the program.
BEN CARDIN: Steve, it’s good to be with you. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Since the president is supposed to certify and, I guess, facts are in here somewhere, let’s talk about the facts. Is Iran complying with the deal so far as you know?
CARDIN: The facts indicate that there has been no material breach by Iran, so Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement. I think just about everyone agrees on that.
INSKEEP: Meaning that Iran is allowing inspectors in. They get to look around. There are certain limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. They’re doing those things.
CARDIN: That’s correct. They’re complying with the requirements, which means that they have suspended any efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.
INSKEEP: Granting what you just said, does the president of the United States under the law have the power to simply say, I just don’t agree that they’re complying, I don’t like this deal, I’m going to decertify them?
CARDIN: The president has the opportunity to withdraw the United States’ sanction relief. He can do that under his authority since the sanction relief was granted under presidential authority. He does not have the ability to say that the United States is – can walk away from the agreement without violating the agreement. We would be in breach of an agreement we entered into.
INSKEEP: Well, let’s talk about whether we’re starting a process that would put the United States in breach if the United States were to withdraw that sanction authority, or rather withholding the sanctions. Then it goes to you in Congress. Is it really quite likely that Congress would then take the opportunity to make sanctions snap back against Iran, sanctions that had been lifted as part of the deal?
CARDIN: Well, one would wonder why the president is doing this. He – if he throws it to Congress, then you don’t know what Congress will do. It’s an expedited process, simple majority, there’s a time limit. It certainly creates a vacuum in the international community in which Russia and China could very easily fill. We don’t know how our European allies are going to respond to what the president does. So in and of itself, it does not withdraw the United States from the agreement. It does not violate the agreement, but it sets in process something that is unknown, and it could cause reactions globally against U.S. interests.
INSKEEP: But with that said, Senator Cardin, it’s my understanding you didn’t like this deal either. Why not just let it come apart?
CARDIN: Well, you’re correct. I did not support the agreement, but we want to make sure the agreement is enforced. We don’t want the United States to be the one who walks away from preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state. We would be isolated, and we’d give strength particularly to Russia and China. That makes no sense at all. What we should be doing is enforcing sanctions against Iran for its non-nuclear violations, its ballistic missile tests, its support of terrorism, its human rights violations. That’s where we should be working together with our European allies to make it clear that Iran is the bad guy, not the United States, not the other partners. And we need to concentrate within the framework of the JCPOA, the agreement, to enforce these other obligations on Iran.
INSKEEP: One other thing, Senator, your Republican counterpart, Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told The New York Times the other day that he is worried that the president is so erratic that he could trigger World War III. That’s part of his battle with the president, a battle of words. Is Corker right about that?
CARDIN: Well, I think Bob Corker is a person who’s very much respected by both Democrats and Republicans for his views on foreign policy. I have – I have said frequently that the president has done things that are reckless. He’s put the United States at greater risk. I think many members of Congress would support the fact that the course taken by the president is not in our national security interest.
INSKEEP: OK, Senator, thanks very much, really appreciate it.
CARDIN: My pleasure, good talking to you.
INSKEEP: Ben Cardin is the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a senator from Maryland.