On October 13, 2017, the President of the United States of America decided to “decertify” Iran’s compliance with its obligations provided under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) and stated that the nuclear deal with Iran was no longer in line with the U.S. national interest.
Pursuant to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act adopted in May 2015 (“INARA”), this announcement automatically triggered a period of 60 calendar days during which the Congress was entitled to adopt, under expedited procedures and with a simple 51-senator majority, a bill reinstating the U.S. sanctions against Iran, including secondary sanctions targeted at non-U.S. persons, which were waived on the Implementation Day of the JCPOA.
The 60-day deadline for adopting such a bill expired on December 12, 2017. The Congress did not take any decision to reinstate U.S. sanctions against Iran and this solution seems to have never been envisaged by either the Democrats or the Republicans.
From a legal standpoint, the expiry of this deadline means that the JCPOA and the U.S. current rules on the sanctions against Iran remain intact.
However, it cannot be excluded that the Congress will continue to work on the question of sanctions against Iran in order to comply with President’s Trump demand made during his “decertification speech” of October 13, 2017 to adopt a harder line on the JCPOA by strengthening its enforcement, preventing Iran from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile and making all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law.
Indeed, according to several media reports, the Congress might be willing to change the current legislation by amending the INARA and imposing new non-nuclear sanctions that will not violate the provisions of the JCPOA such as restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programs. The key propositions for amendments were presented as early as in October 2017 by two Republican senators Bob Corker and Tom Cotton.
Nevertheless, should the Congress decide to take any legislative action, it must act promptly. Pursuant to the INARA, the U.S. President must certify to the Congress that Iran is complying with the JCPOA and that the agreement is in line with the U.S. national interest every 90 days. President Trump will thus have to take a decision on this topic once again in mid-January 2018. A new “decertification” of the JCPOA would mean that a new 60-day period would open for the Congress to adopt a bill reinstating the sanctions.
In addition, the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, will have to decide in January 2018 whether the U.S. will extend the current waivers of sanctions provided under the Iran Sanctions Act, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, the National Defense Authorization Act and the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act. Such waivers must be renewed periodically and they will all expire in January 2018.