In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), leaving the multilateral and congressionally reviewed agreement in a zombie-like state. However, the JCPOA could potentially be revived. Should the United States and the other parties (China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom) outline a process by which the United States and Iran will resume implementation of the JCPOA, there should be no legal roadblocks to swift re-entry. There will, however, likely be political debate over Congress’ role to review any sanctions lifting.
What congressional oversight mechanisms exist?
The 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, was constructed to reflect a balance between the President’s authority to manage foreign affairs and Congress’ responsibility to review the terms under which Iran would receive sanctions relief. In the summer of 2015, the President submitted the JCPOA to the relevant Congressional committees, allowing Congress a time-limited review of the JCPOA before the President was able to lift sanctions that were placed on Iran. Congress did not disapprove of the deal, so it was implemented and codified under international law through a United Nations Security Council Resolution.
What does INARA require the President to do?
INARA includes the following requirements:
- Within five days of signing an agreement, submit the text of the agreement with Iran to relevant Congressional committees. The President must also submit a “verification assessment report” and certification that the agreement is in U.S. interests.
- Congress has 30 days to review the agreement, during which the President may not provide sanctions relief to Iran.
- To block the deal, Congress must pass a joint resolution opposing the agreement.
- Once the deal is implemented, the President must certify every 90 days that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement. If the deal is breached or the President does not certify compliance, INARA outlines procedures to re-impose U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Is resubmittal of the JCPOA to Congress required under INARA?
In short, no. There are three reasons why it should not be interpreted this way. First, Congress has already reviewed the JCPOA and INARA does not include a provision requiring Congress to do so again upon resubmission. Second, the term “agreement” in INARA has not been understood to include subsequent documents reflecting agreed interpretations and implementation guidance generated pursuant to the terms of the JCPOA (i.e., in the Joint Commission established by the JCPOA). Third, nothing in INARA limits the sanctions being lifted to “nuclear” sanctions. Rather, it refers to “statutory sanctions with respect to Iran,” so INARA does not place limits on what types of sanctions can be lifted in order to implement the JCPOA.