Should the US listen to Netanyahu on the sunset clause?

WASHINGTON – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Congressional delegation last month that the United States should remove the sunset clause from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. According to the nuclear deal backed by former President Barack Obama, certain restrictions on Tehran’s centrifuges cap would be lifted after ten years.

Republican Members of Congress welcomed Netanyahu’s call to amend the JCPOA. “At a minimum we should remove the sunset clause. The deal itself has been devastating,” Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) told Jewish Insider. “The sunset clause lifts the restrictions and allows Iran to make very steady progress or to actually turn the corner. I would not be happy with only doing that. I think we should walk away from the deal.”

Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) agreed with Cheney about the harmful effects of the sunset clause. “When the deal was made and it had this deadline of ten years, it basically said after this deadline you (Iran) can do whatever you want so it was basically giving them the green light,” he explained. “Ten years for them in the grand scheme of things is a blink of the eye and then gives them the ability if they want to say: We lived up to our end of the bargain and now you have to live up to your end and let us produce this weapon: that would be a complete departure from anything we’ve done.”

However, many Democrats expressed discomfort with discarding the provision. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) argued that ending the sunset provision would “nullify” the JCPOA “since you are opening up the deal.” The Arizona lawmaker added, “You have all of these international partners that agreed to certain embargoes. I don’t think we have the full support of all these other nations to pull out of the deal unilaterally and they would follow and join with us to impose (new) restrictions.” In addition to Iran, the JCPOA was backed by Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain, and the U.S. after 20 months of arduous negotiations.

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) also emphasized the importance of respecting the multilateral nature of the JCPOA. “I don’t think the US should unilaterally try to change any part of the Iran nuclear deal,” he said. “It was negotiated by the P5+1 (five permanent countries serving on the UN Security Council along with Germany) plus Iran so that is the format that any amendments to the JCPOA should take.”

While some analysts refer to the JCPOA as the “Iran deal,” the State Department has emphasized that such a label is inaccurate. In a letter to then-Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS), the State Department under the Obama administration noted, “The JCPOA is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document. The JCPOA reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1.”

Even though the JCPOA was not a signed agreement, analysts are reluctant to discard the importance of adhering to its clauses. Michael Makovsky, President of the Jewish Institute for the National Security of America (JINSA) told Jewish Insider that the JCPOA is “incorporated in a UNSC resolution 2231 that we (U.S.) did vote for and does have legal validity.” Makovsky added that “there could be renegotiations if the Iranians agreed with it,” but he was highly skeptical that Tehran would voluntarily reimpose restrictions. “We can’t dictate to them (Iran). For them to agree, they would really have to capitulate. It’s really inconceivable. Why would they ever give something like that up?” he concluded.’

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