RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The deadline for the president to recertify the Iran nuclear deal was yesterday. And as promised, that did not happen. President Trump isn't pulling the U.S. from the pact completely - at least not yet. Instead, he's calling on Congress and allies to fix the deal's, quote, "flaws." The president's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said on Fox News Sunday it's a weak deal that's being weakly monitored.
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H R MCMASTER: The president has made clear that he will not permit this deal to provide cover for what we know is a horrible regime to develop a nuclear weapon.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister told CBS's "Face The Nation" that if the U.S. backs out of the deal, no country will trust any U.S. administration to engage in long-term negotiations.
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MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: Now nobody's going to make any concessions to the United States because they know that the next U.S. president will come back and say it wasn't enough. We're not satisfied.
MARTIN: We're going to bring in Michael Anton now. He is the spokesperson for President Trump's National Security Council. Mr. Anton, thanks so much for being with us this morning.
MICHAEL ANTON: You're welcome.
MARTIN: If President Trump thinks this is such a bad deal, why not just rip it up altogether? Why this half measure of punting the issue to Congress?
ANTON: Well, a couple of things. First of all, you know, when you - in the lead-in, you used the phrase decertify, which isn't exactly accurate. And the other point I want to make, which is a related point, is we're talking about two different things. The action that the president declined to take on Friday was an action under U.S. law, the so-called INARA, or Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. And it really does not directly relate to the deal. That's a law that Congress passed because the prior administration did not submit the deal to Congress as a treaty but made it an executive action only. And Congress wanted to have a say. One of the things they did is they put this 90-day requirement into a law that says an administration has to tell Congress if they think Iran is, you know, working with - working in good faith in four particular areas.
MARTIN: But the bottom line is the president believes that Iran is not complying with the deal.
ANTON: No, that's not what he said. What he said was - again, there are four criteria. And what he said - one of those criteria - is the deal - the sanctions relief provided under the deal appropriate and proportional to the benefits? And he has said all along, since he first started running for president, that he thought the main flaw of this deal was that it gave Iran too much for too few concessions. That is a criteria that Congress wrote into the INARA law. And that is the criteria in which the president cited when he declined to certify the deal.
MARTIN: Then how does that change? Because now you've said Congress sits in your court. But Congress can't unilaterally renegotiate what was a deal that was...
MARTIN: ...Brokered between many allies.
ANTON: Right. That's not what we're asking Congress to do or what we're working with Congress on. What we're asking Congress to do is to set new conditions in U.S. law that hold Iran accountable and that - to a standard. So for instance, what we want to say is if Iran gets within one year of a breakout period where they can achieve a nuclear weapon, then American sanctions automatically step back. Everything that we're asking Congress to do are things that are designed to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon. And if the goal of the nuclear deal is to prevent that, it's hard to see how anybody could oppose these measures.
MARTIN: Do you think that's likely to happen? I mean, Congress, even with Republicans holding the majority, have struggled to move ahead with a whole lot of things the president has called them to act on. So do you think Congress is going to get in line?
ANTON: We'll see. We're very hopeful. As I said, there doesn't seem to be, in my view, any constituency in Congress for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. So the passage of some new, tough measures to ensure that that never happens should not be controversial.
MARTIN: The president has put a lot of stock in the opinions of his military advisers, talking often about the generals, how much he values their advice. But both the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, and the secretary of defense, James Mattis, have said the president should stay in the deal unequivocally. What are they missing?
ANTON: There's no - this is a misinterpretation of comments that they've made. What they said is right now it's in the national interest of the United States to remain in the deal. Well, guess what? The United States is still in the deal. The principals, that is including General Mattis, General Dunford, the secretary of state and others, presented the president with a consensus recommendation of what to do this time, which was to remain in but seek to address the deal's flaws both in U.S. law and working with allies.
And the one thing, too, that I need to make clear, which is a fundamental point here - what the president did on Friday was much more than announce his decision on what to do with a certain 90-day certification requirement in U.S. law. Although he did announce that, he - what he really did more fundamentally was roll out a comprehensive Iran strategy that puts forth ideas and plans for the United States to counter the full range of Iranian malign behavior, which includes nuclear weapons activities but also includes ballistic missile development proliferation, support and funding for terrorism - they're the world's No. 1 state sponsor of terror - and regional destabilization, including fueling the Syrian civil war.
MARTIN: Michael Anton is the spokesperson for the National Security Council. Thanks for your time this morning.
ANTON: Thank you.
MARTIN: I'm joined by NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, we just heard there - it sounds like the White House is trying to have it both ways. The administration wants out of the Iran deal and they want to stay in the Iran deal.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah. What they essentially want is a redo, and no one else involved in the deal is interested in that. So this is very similar to the Paris climate accord, which, when the U.S. pulled out of, you'll remember, President Trump said, this gives us leverage to renegotiate. Now, the rest of the world said this took us years to do, this was a complicated agreement.
DETROW: It's done.
DETROW: That's off the table.
DETROW: So the same this is happening with Iran and you heard a statement from the heads of Germany, Great Britain and France right after President Trump made this announcement saying this was an agreement that took 13 years to reach. We are sticking to it.
DETROW: So what is Congress likely to do now?
DETROW: Likely to do nothing. Remember, when this deal first went into place, Congress set up a system so that they could express their displeasure with the agreement but not actually tank it. Lawmakers from both parties do not want to be the ones sinking this deal. So you're - you can likely expect a lot of talk about this, maybe some hearings, frustration with Iran being expressed, but a vote to reinstate sanctions seems very unlikely at this point.
MARTIN: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks so much, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.