Senior Democrat Who Voted Against Iran Deal Calls on Trump to Uphold It

Withdrawing from the deal 'would harm U.S. national security,' says Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on Foreign Affairs Committee

An attendee holds a sign opposed to the Iran nuclear deal during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the agreement on Capitol Hill, Washington, September 9, 2015.
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON – A senior Democratic member of Congress who voted against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 called on the administration of U.S. President Donlad Trump and Congress on Tuesday to keep the agreement in place. 

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who is known for his strong support of Israel, wrote in an article published in USA Today: "Today I believe America’s interests are best served by living up to our commitments in the deal, aggressively enforcing it, cracking down on Iran’s other dangerous behavior, and continuing to look for ways to make the nuclear agreement stronger."

Engel's appeal comes ahead of a major speech by Trump on the fate of the Iran deal, slated for later this week. Trump is reportedly planning to decertify the deal by announcing that the agreement is not in the national interest of the United States. Rather than nullifying the deal, decertifying it would send the agreement back to U.S. lawmakers, who would then be left with the dilemma of whether or not to scrap it by reimposing sanctions on Iran.

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In 2015, Engel was one of a minority of Democratic lawmakers who voted against the agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration. He attacked the agreement for having major flaws, such as a "sunset clause" regarding inspections of Iran's nuclear sites. On Tuesday, however, he explained that, "Despite these flaws, our ongoing commitment to the agreement could help prevent further destabilization of the Middle East."

According to Engel, the best path forward is that "the agreement must be vigorously enforced. International inspectors must have access to all sites necessary to ensure that Iran is not able to overtly or covertly advance a nuclear-weapons program." He argues that the U.S. should ramp up the pressure on Iran in areas that are not covered by the nuclear deal, such as its support of terrorist organizations, its ballistic missile program and its destabilizing activities in other parts of the Middle East. 

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Engel also offered to "start working with our allies now to build support for pushing back the sunset of the [nuclear deal's] most important restrictions. At the end of the agreement, Iran would be a threshold nuclear state with a short breakout period, and this should be unacceptable." 

Withdrawing from the agreement or causing it to collapse, Engel warned, would harm U.S. national security. "Iran has already seen windfalls from the deal, so walking away would turn sanctions relief into a giveaway. If the United States wants to prevent Iran from rushing to a bomb and fomenting further instability in the region, then we must work with our allies to build support for a shared agenda. If we walk away from the nuclear deal, we lose our leverage. This would be a serious miscalculation."

Engel ended his article by stating that, "although I voted against the agreement and continue to believe that it has serious flaws, at this point it would be a mistake to not certify Iran’s compliance and withdraw from the agreement absent solid evidence that Tehran is cheating on the deal. Instead, the administration should strictly enforce the agreement, push back on Iran’s behavior outside of the agreement, and work with our allies to extend the life of the agreement."

Engel is not the first senior Democratic lawmaker who is calling on the U.S. to stick to the deal with Iran, despite voting against it in 2015. Last week, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a similar statement. At the same time, Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, another leading pro-Israel Democrat who opposed the nuclear deal two years ago, led a group of 180 Democratic lawmakers who called on Trump to keep it in place for now.