RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump called the future of the Iran nuclear deal into question last week by refusing to certify Iran's compliance with the treaty. Now European Union leaders are appealing to Congress to not let the Iran nuclear deal fail. Top diplomat Federica Mogherini yesterday on the EU's position.
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FEDERICA MOGHERINI: We fully stay committed to the complete implementation by all sides of the Iranian nuclear deal. We see this as a key security interest for the European Union and for the region.
MARTIN: We're going to hear now from the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican senator from Idaho Jim Risch. Senator Risch says the Iran deal never should've been made in the first place and shouldn't be upheld now. I sat down with him in his office yesterday.
Senator Risch, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.
JIM RISCH: Thank you so much. Glad to be here.
MARTIN: Do you think the U.S. should abrogate the deal and call for new sanctions?
RISCH: Well, before we start into that, we need to go back to the beginning of this. President Obama negotiated an agreement and then signed it. The difficulty with that is he skipped a major part. And that is he needed to submit it to the United States Senate for ratification under the Constitution. It was a treaty. They say, oh, no, it's an executive agreement. Well, you read the definition of a treaty. And it is simply an agreement between countries. So this thing is tangled badly. And it's tangled primarily because of the way that Obama did this at the outset. So now we do not have an agreement.
MARTIN: So you don't think there is an Iran nuclear deal.
RISCH: I think there is an Iran nuclear deal that has been agreed to by President Obama. And if he wants to be bound by it, he certainly has the right to. But that does not bind the United States of America. It certainly doesn't bind this Congress.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you, though - because both the secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, have both said that there is a deal, and Iran is complying, and the U.S. should stay in it and that - Joe Dunford specifically said that the Iran deal has slowed Iran's development of a nuclear weapons program. What's he missing?
RISCH: Well, I think he's right on that. But that doesn't answer the question as to whether we have a valid, legal, binding deal or not. Certainly...
MARTIN: But if it's working, who cares?
RISCH: Well, that's a really good question. And the answer to that is who cares are the people that are at the end of this agreement when the agreement starts to expire in eight years. Yes, that's when you really care. Look, the flaws in this agreement are legion. But number one, there should never, ever have been any sunset on any of the provisions that stopped Iran from having a nuclear weapon. This...
MARTIN: Some of these stipulations expire after a certain period of time.
RISCH: I argued at the time this was not an agreement that stopped them from having a nuclear weapon. It was an agreement which gave them a timetable for which they could develop a nuclear agreement. And if you have a sunset provisions in it, when they get to the end of it, they say, look, we've done everything we said we're going to do. Now we're going to build a nuclear weapon. And what can you say to that if, indeed, you've gone through the period?
But the other thing that I feel very strongly about - I said on both the foreign relations Committee and the intelligence committee - we met in closed session over and over and over again with the negotiators. And we told them, you have got to do something beyond just the nuclear programs. Oh, that's all we'll talk about - is a nuclear program. If that's all they'll talk about, then you guys fold your books, get away from there and tell them when they're ready to stop supporting terrorism, we're willing to talk again. When they're ready to comply with the U.N. resolutions, then we're ready to talk again.
They wouldn't do it. And so what happened? That ink wasn't even dry on the agreement when Iran was saying, oh, well, we now can do whatever we want to do because this covers everything. No, it didn't. No, it didn't. And that's one of the reasons why we put sanctions on again this year.
MARTIN: So I understand your critique of how the deal came to be and the fact that you argue that it is too narrow, that it doesn't take into consideration Iran's global behavior. But we live in the reality we live in. And there is a deal now. And what does Congress do?
RISCH: Let me take you forward to some reality. The real drop-dead date is January 15 because on January 15, unless the president extends the waivers of the three sanction laws that we had in place prior to this deal that Obama signed, those sanctions will go back into place...
MARTIN: Do you think that should happen?
RISCH: ... Without Congress doing anything.
MARTIN: Do you think that should happen?
RISCH: Of course I think that should happen. I didn't think we should've signed the agreement in the first place. And I think there's going to be a lot of discussion around here to try to do something about it. Having watched this and seen how dug in people are politically - and they shouldn't be on this issue but are. And those who were on the side of that this was a good deal, and it was done the way it was, and it was OK - they are going to do everything they can to defend where we are right now.
MARTIN: If the goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, the fact that this deal has slowed that process - is that not a good thing?
RISCH: It is not a good thing if, indeed, you give them a roadmap to actually complete it. Look, you and I think in terms of, like, this agreement - 10 years. These people are the remnants of the Persian Empire. They think in terms of centuries. To them, it's nothing. This is fine. This is absolutely fine with them that they know now they are going to be a nuclear power, and they're going to be able to build a nuclear weapon at the conclusion of the agreement.
MARTIN: Then what is your solution?
RISCH: Well, my solution is we need to impose the sanctions to where these people understand that we are very, very serious about this, and they are never going to be permitted to have a nuclear weapon. And until they believe that...
MARTIN: You don't need European partners to make that happen? Because they won't.
RISCH: Well, that's a - you know, that's an argument - I argued with the Europeans on this last week. And they - of course, they're insistent that they have a good deal and for good reason. I mean, they have poured in there, making deals and making money hand over fist. And this isn't just about economics. This is about something more existential than just making money.
MARTIN: While I have you, let me ask you - this past summer, Congress passed sanctions against Russia, a sweeping set of sanctions. The president still hasn't put them in place. Do you know what the holdup is, and is it a concern to you?
RISCH: Well, first of all, number one, I don't know what the holdup is, if indeed there is a holdup. I can tell you this - over the years, as we have imposed sanctions, the second branch of government has never been as robust as I'd like them to see when it comes to imposing the sanctions. That includes Republican and Democratic administrations. Their enthusiasm is always less than Congress's enthusiasm in that regard.
MARTIN: It's not a concern to you. You think it'll happen.
RISCH: Time will tell.
MARTIN: That feels like a cop-out.
RISCH: Time will tell.
MARTIN: Republican Senator from Idaho Jim Risch, thank you so much for your time, sir.
RISCH: Thank you.
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