What did Trump certify?

Did President Trump certify to Congress on Monday that Iran is complying with the nuclear deal? This is what virtually of all of the reporting on his action says he did.

We wrote that, early in the day, National Security Council director H. R. McMaster indicated the administration would certify Iranian compliance. The next day we reported, per Eli Lake, that Trump had balked at providing certification and came close to not doing so, but in the end certified Iranian compliance.

But the invaluable Omri Ceren of the Israel Project informs us that, contrary to “almost all major reporting,” Trump stopped short of certifying that Iran is complying with the deal. Indeed, he removed language about Iranian compliance and added language emphasizing Iranian violations. This AP story confirms Ceren’s report.

What, then, did the president certify? He certified only that Iran has met the four narrow conditions of the 2015 Corker-Cardin bill, says Ceren. The four conditions are these:

(1) Iran is implementing the deal,
(2) Iran is not in material breach,
(3) Iran is not advancing its nuclear weapons program, and
(4) sanctions relief is appropriate and vital for U.S. national security.

In limiting his certification to the four conditions, and listing several Iranian violations, the administration made it clear that, although Iran is not in “material breach,” neither is it in full compliance. This is the compromise brought about by Trump’s last-minute intervention.

What difference do the changes make? They don’t change the fact that Iran will continue to get sanctions relief, for now. Only by refusing to certify one or more of the four conditions might this have changed.

However, the changes are not without significance. For one thing, they undermine the Iranian regime’s oft-repeated talking point that the Trump administration admits Iran is complying with the terms of the deal.

For another, they may signal a shift in policy towards the deal once the Trump administration completes its broad review of the Iran deal, which is expected to happen soon. As the estimable Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who reportedly is advising the administration on Iran puts it: “What that really foreshadows is once the policy review is done, we’re going to see a massive increase in pressure — not just sanctions pressure but using all instruments of American power.”

Let’s hope so.

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