President-elect Donald Trump, who vowed on the campaign trail to rip up the Iranian nuclear treaty, should do more to enforce the agreement rather than discard it right away, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Monday.
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a critic of the deal that outgoing President Barack Obama negotiated with Tehran leaders last year, said he expects the incoming Trump administration should and will do more to police what he said were ongoing violations of the pact by the Iranian government. But since the U.S. government and its allies have already returned billions of dollars of once-frozen assets to Iran, Corker cautioned against reneging on the agreement once Trump is sworn into office in January.
"I don't think that [throwing out the deal) is a very good place to start," Corker told reporters in his hometown of Chattanooga. "If you tear the agreement up on the front end, it's almost like cutting your nose off to spite your face because they already have assess to all of their dollars."
In a speech in March to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, Trump called the Iranian nuclear deal "a disaster" and "the worst deal ever negotiated." Although Obama touted the pact as a way to limit nuclear bomb development by the Iranians, Trump warned the agreement could lead to "a nuclear holocaust" by giving the Iranians more cash and the ability to trade with more nations.
Corker worked to delay implementation of the deal and to give Congress the ability to weigh in on the agreement last year, but the nuclear deal was still adopted as a political commitment rather than a treaty ratified by lawmakers. That means the agreement is vulnerable to a new U.S. president, such as Trump, who could try to change its terms.
Corker, who was briefly considered as a possible vice presidential pick by Trump this summer and may still be a potential candidate for secretary of state in the Trump cabinet, said the U.S. should first work with its allies to enforce the existing agreement before throwing it out and trying to negotiate a new pact.
"There is a new tone and a lot of actual action that a new president can take to push back on [the Iranian military] activities in the region, which is just the opposite of what the Obama administration is doing," Corker said.
Corker said the Obama administration "knows there are these violations," but he said "they are not going these things to push back" against the Iranian violations and are working with banks in Europe and elsewhere "to encourage them to do business" with Iran.
"One of the reasons that I opposed this treaty so strongly is that we gave up all of our leverage on the front end," Corker said. "To me the best route for the new president to handle this is to push back on the violations that are taking place today."
Corker charged that Iran is breaking the terms of the agreement regarding ballistic missiles and the purchase of conventional arms.
"From time to time, we also know that they [the Iranians] are going above the limit on production of heavy water [a material that could be used in the process to make atomic arms]," he said.
The Obama administration said the nuclear deal led Iran to quit pursuing the development of nuclear materials that could be used in a nuclear bomb. But Corker said the deal also gave back to Iran billions of dollars in currency to help prop up the Iranian government and its efforts to promote instability in other parts of the Middle East.
"The billions of dollars that were stashed in countries all around the world became available to Iran immediately," Corker said about the nuclear deal with Iran. "And the way that the deal evolves over time, they actually end up in a much stronger position than they were in the beginning."
The United States is one of seven countries involved in the deal, in which the United Nations and the European Union also play a role.
"So on the front end, I think it's best to begin strongly enforcing [the deal] and clamping down, and building support so that collectively it is possible that the agreement is overcome or undone because of the actions that Iran is taking or not taking," Corker said.
By building support from allies and aggressively enforcing the terms of the existing deal, "it's very possibly that a country like Iran will hang itself in the process.
"My sense is that is exactly what the new president will do," Corker said.
Corker, a 64-year-old former real estate developer, Tennessee finance commissioner and Chattanooga mayor, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. Corker met with Trump in June and was considered as a potential running mate before Trump ultimately selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is now leading Trump's transition planning.
Although Corker has not been to New York to see Trump since the election, as have many other politicians vying for cabinet posts, he said he has talked with both Trump and Pence. He declined Monday to discuss any potential cabinet post he might want, if it is offered.
"I find it is better for your political health not to talk about it," he said.
If Corker is not offered the secretary of state position, he will likely preside over the confirmation of whomever is appointed during the Senate proceedings before the foreign relations committee.
Corker also will have to decide within the next year or so if he wants to seek a third term in the U.S. Senate or whether he might try to succeed Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., as Tennessee governor in the 2018 election.
Contact staff writer Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.