The White House is working with lawmakers on a legislative fix that could allow the U.S. to remain in the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Associated Press during an interview Friday.
Changes to the U.S. law codifying U.S. participation the 2015 agreement could come as early as next week Tillerson said.
President Donald Trump faces approaching deadlines for how to proceed with an Obama-era accord he has threatened to tear up, describing it as the “worst deal ever” and too soft on Iran.
“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Tillerson said. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”
"The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it. We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it."
Tillerson said the administration was speaking with congressional leaders “on a very active basis” about a fix. He suggested Trump might be inclined to preserve the deal by waiving sanctions again Thursday if Congress shows signs of acting in short order.
However, getting an agreement in Congress on such a short timeline could be extremely challenging. A congressional aide confirmed there has been significant progress in discussions between key lawmakers and the administration, but said formal negotiations haven’t started yet.
While the talks involving the White House, State Department and Congress wouldn’t impose new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity, which Trump wants, they could strengthen the way the U.S. enforces the agreement, perhaps convincing Trump that it’s worthwhile for the U.S. to remain in the pact.
The president hasn’t yet decided what he’ll do about Iran next week, when he must decide yet again whether to certify Tehran’s compliance with the pact and continue granting it relief from U.S. economic sanctions.
Regardless, Trump waived the sanctions for another three months, something aides have said he loathed doing. He left the ultimate decision on whether to quit the deal for later while urging Congress to change the U.S. law concerning certification.
Consequently, lawmakers were discussing with the White House the option of removing a requirement that Trump certify Iranian compliance, which yields another possibility for a fix: changing the law so certification occurs far less often, officials said.
Any changes would have to get significant support among Republicans, including many die-hard opponents of the nuclear deal, and some Democrats who largely support it.
Discontent with the EU
In the AP interview, Tillerson also voiced his discontent with the European Union for failing to support protesters in Iran.
“We’re a bit disappointed that the European Union has not taken a more definitive stance in supporting those voices in the country that are calling for reform,” he said.
"We’re a bit disappointed that the European Union has not taken a more definitive stance in supporting those voices in [Iran] that are calling for reform."
The former Exxon Mobil CEO also discussed next week’s inter-Korean talks, about which he was cautious. He said the rare talks between South Korea and the North about February's Winter Olympics could offer clues regarding Pyongyang’s willingness to discuss broader issues, including its nuclear weapons.
The meeting will be the first such session in two years, and Tillerson said it could be a platform for the North to indicate interest in talks with the U.S.
“Is this the beginning of something? I think it’s premature,” he said. “We’ll see if the North Koreans come with more than just wanting to talk about the Olympics.”