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Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman Discusses Trump's Decision To Leave Iran Nuclear Deal


Let's take the next few minutes to check in on how President Trump's decision to exit the Iran nuclear deal is playing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. To do that, we're going to talk to California Democrat Brad Sherman. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He thinks the U.S. should have stayed in the deal, but when the agreement was made back in 2015, Congressman Sherman opposed it. The day the deal was signed, Sherman described it as good, bad and ugly in a speech on the House floor, the ugly being the sunset provisions that lift restrictions on Iran's nuclear capacities starting 10 years into the agreement.


BRAD SHERMAN: In its 10th year, it's so ugly that we have to demand additional negotiations. And when we make that demand, we need to make that demand in the voice of a president in a future administration who is determined to say that Iran can never have an unlimited number of centrifuges; Iran can never be a few days from a nuclear weapon and that in order to prevent that, we have the legal right to put all options on the table.

CORNISH: I asked Congressman Sherman what he thinks now that President Trump is saying many of those same things.

SHERMAN: He's saying it the wrong way and at the wrong time. He's put us on a collision course - I don't think ultimately there'll be a collision - but on a collision course with Europe and Asia without laying the predicate. To have effective sanctions, you need a combination of pressure and persuasion, and he's done nothing to persuade the rest of the world as President Obama had that we do need to get tough again with Iran.

So his approach is to try to sanction Iran. And instead of doing it for what Iran is doing in Syria, where they're killing hundreds of thousands of people, or Yemen, where they're responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, he's saying, let's tear up the Iran deal now when its problem is in 2026.

CORNISH: But he is also raising this issue - these issues that you're talking about. He has - the president has talked about the testing of ballistic missiles. He has talked about Iranian activities in the region - right? - in that we're talking about support for militant groups in the Syrian government. So doesn't it seem like this is exactly what - it's essentially forcing people to talk about these issues in a way that they weren't before.

SHERMAN: Well, I think the whole world is talking about what is happening in Syria and Yemen and how Iran is responsible for much of it. He's talking about some of the right things. He's just...

CORNISH: They shouldn't be tied together somehow.

SHERMAN: Well, what we should be doing is living with the Iran deal for now and focusing attention on what Iran is doing in the non-nuclear sphere - Assad, Yemen - and then using that as a reason to persuade Europe and Asia to impose new and different sanctions on Iran and, that way, bring Iran to the table. Instead of picking arguments that would resonate in Europe and Asia, he's picking arguments that Europe and Asia are rejecting. If you're going to try to persuade people to sanction Iran, best to use the arguments that will work.

CORNISH: Can you talk about what you'd like to see now and if you have any idea of what this administration is planning next? We've heard repeatedly that the ball is in Iran's court.

SHERMAN: Well, the ball's really in Europe's court. And we're on a collision...

CORNISH: And they say they want to stick with the deal.

SHERMAN: They want to stick with the deal. The thing is they want to do business with the United States. As a legal matter, 180 days from now, in some cases 90 days from now, major European businesses and banks will not be allowed to do business with the United States. Now, nobody on Wall Street thinks that these cards are actually going to collide, but we're on that kind of collision because I don't think Europe can accept the idea that its entire foreign policy has to be made in the United States. So it's going to be very hard for them to say, we want to stay with the deal, but America has forced us out of it. So...

CORNISH: We had a Republican senator on yesterday who says that we are exactly going to force them to make that call, that they are going to have to come back to the U.S. and talk more about this deal.

SHERMAN: Well, they - we've already talked to them and asked for three things, two of which they've agreed to. One of those is that they will join with us in sanctioning Iran in new ways for - because of Iran's missile program, which is a threat to Europe and the United States, and that they will join with us in trying - in demanding that the existing deal be enforced when it comes to inspections, particularly inspections of military sites.

And that should have been enough for us to kick the can down the road - not necessarily a ban to lock us in forever but kick the can down the road. By doing that, we would have deterred investment in Iran because no business is going to assume, what are we going to do in the future? And we would have had European support.

CORNISH: That's Brad Sherman. He's a Democrat from California. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SHERMAN: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.