Democratic Senators Urge Biden to Return to 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington
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U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House, in April.
U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House, in April. Credit: TOM BRENNER/ REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
Washington

WASHINGTON – Twenty-seven Democratic Senators are urging the Biden administration to immediately return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal under a compliance-for-compliance approach.

According to a letter obtained by Haaretz, the senators hope to relay the urgency of addressing Iran's nuclear threat – particularly its impending breakout time and increased levels of uranium enrichment – and use it s a springboard to address additional significant concerns with American allies, as well as potentially extending the deal's terms or negotiating a new pact as a follow-on agreement.

"We strongly support returning to the JCPOA and using a 'compliance for compliance' approach as a starting point to reset U.S. relations with Iran," the letter lead by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) reads.

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"Should Iran be willing to return to compliance with the limitations set by the JCPOA, the United States should be willing to rejoin the deal and provide the sanctions relief required under the agreement," the senators added.  

U.S. President Joe Biden has previously said that Tehran must resume full compliance with restrictions on its nuclear activity under the deal before Washington can rejoin the pact.

The letter comes one day before the U.S., Iran and world powers are to resume talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 deal, three years after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement. 

"President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and pursue a “maximum pressure” strategy not only failed to yield results but has brought Iran closer to the capacity to develop nuclear weapons," the senators write. "The Trump Administration’s numerous military incidents in the Middle East repeatedly and needlessly brought us to the brink of war. These missteps have made Iran a more dangerous and destabilizing force in the region, leaving our country and our allies visibly less safe than when President Obama left office."

The senators hope to use a return to the JCPOA as a foundation for the U.S. to address other issues of concern with its international allies — issues that must "be addressed with the same urgency" as Iran's nuclear ambitions, including "hostage taking and unlawful imprisonment of U.S. persons, military and financial support for destabilizing regional proxies, horrific human rights abuses, cyberattacks, and ballistic missile development." 

They believe that the terms of the JCPOA can either be extended after a return to the deal, or a new agreement can be negotiated as a follow-up, a relatively standard practice with other arms control agreements.

They also call on the Biden administration to build on its initial mutual return to the JCPOA by "promptly engaging in follow-on discussions on a regional diplomatic strategy to restrain Iran that involves not only the P5+1 but also Israel and the Gulf States."

The other senators to co-sign the letter alongside Murphy and Kaine are Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

The letter comes days after an attack on Iran's Natanz nuclear site, which Tehran has blamed on Israel. The White House said Monday that the U.S. was not involved in the attack "in any manner," refusing to speculate on causes or impact.

Iranian officials said Tuesday that it would begin enriching uranium to 60 percent purity – higher than the program ever has before – after the attack. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the attack a "very bad gamble" by Israel that would strengthen Tehran's hand in the Vienna talks, the first of which took place last week, and were described by Iran and global powers as "constructive."

The Biden administration has said that not all Trump-era sanctions would be lifted, many of which sought to obscure which penalties were related to the nuclear agreement and which weren't. State Department officials have also warned that Iran insisting on all sanctions being lifted would lead to an impasse.

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