Senate Dems sense McMaster not sold on decertifying Iran deal

Sources: Trump to decertify Iran deal next week
Sources: Trump to decertify Iran deal next week

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Story highlights

  • Many in both parties think decertifying the deal would destabilize relations with allies
  • Trump plans to "decertify" the Iran nuclear deal next week, sources say

Washington (CNN)H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, invited a small group of Democratic senators to the White House Wednesday to discuss the President's plans on the Iran deal, and lawmakers left with the impression that he was not sold on the idea that decertifying is the right way to go, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

The sources said the meeting was clearly intended for McMaster to get ideas from key Senate Democrats on how to avoid decertifying the Iran deal, which many in both parties think would destabilize relations with allies and make it harder to confront foes well beyond Iran.
These sources say McMaster never explicitly said he disagrees with the President, nor that he wants Trump to certify that the Iran deal is in America's national interest.
    But the sources say McMaster repeatedly responded to Democratic senators' entreaties not to decertify Iran and instead look for bipartisan alternatives by saying that he is not the one they have to convince, suggesting they were preaching to the choir.
    An administration source told CNN that the senators got the wrong impression from the meeting, and insisted that McMaster is not only behind the President's Iran strategy -- he worked with the whole team to craft it. McMaster wants to make it a better deal to address the major flaws that both Republicans and Democrats agree have to be addressed, the source said.
    Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told CNN that McMaster "fully agrees" with Trump that the Iran deal is "seriously flawed."
    "He continues to work tirelessly through the interagency process to present the President with options to address those flaws. He is also helping the administration work with legislators to develop a common US government approach to deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon," he said.
    What's in the Iran nuclear deal?

    Stockpiles & centrifuges: The deal has curbed Iran's nuclear program, reducing its stockpiles of enriched uranium by 97 percent and cutting the number of its centrifuges by two-thirds.

    Uranium enrichment: It still allows Iran to continue enrichment -- enough for civil use to power parts of the country, but not enough to build a nuclear bomb.

    Inspections: Iran is required to provide inspectors from the UN's nuclear watchdog access to monitor its declared nuclear facilities.

    Compliance: Every 90 days, the US President must certify to Congress that Iran is keeping up its end of the deal. If the President does not certify the agreement, Congress has a statutory 60-day period to decide whether to reimpose sanctions.

    Sanctions: If Iran doesn't comply, US, European Union, and UN nuclear-related sanctions on the Iranian economy would be reinstated. A number of non-nuclear-related sanctions currently remain in place.

    Sources: White House, State Department, Congress, CNN

    Trump plans to "decertify" the Iran nuclear deal next week, declaring the Obama-era pact not in US interests and launching a congressional review period on the accord, according to two senior US officials.
    Any ease from McMaster in decertifying the Iran deal puts him on the same side as other top members of the Trump national security team.
    Just this week, Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, asked Defense Secretary James Mattis whether he thinks it is in America's national security interest to stay in the Iran deal.
    "Yes, senator, I do," Mattis responded.
    The bottom line impression that several senators got from McMaster was that the President simply does not feel comfortable putting his name on a piece of paper saying it is in America's national interest to be part of the deal, and that it was a heavy lift getting the President to certify twice this year that Iran is complying with the deal.
    The senators brought into the meeting are highly engaged on the Iran issue, or are more moderate Democrats who tend to be more likely to work with the President, the sources said.
    At one point during the meeting, Democratic North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp spoke up seemingly in Trump's defense, the sources said, expressing an understanding of the point of view that it's hard for the President to put his name on documents related to an Iran deal that he doesn't believe in.
    This story has been updated.