House Democrats endorse Biden’s push to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

on the hill

Signatories include incoming Foreign Affairs chair Rep. Gregory Meeks and former candidates Reps. Joaquin Castro and Brad Sherman

(House Television via AP)

Members of the House of Representatives vote on legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 27, 2020.

Congressional Democrats are collecting signatures on a letter to President-elect Joe Biden backing his plan to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal without renegotiating, as well as push for further negotiations on other issues.

Initial signatories on the letter include Foreign Affairs Committee chairman-elect Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), as well as Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), who ran against Meeks for the chairman position. Rep. David Price (D-NC) is circulating the letter, which has also been signed by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA).

The letter was first reported by JTA on Thursday.

The representatives write that they support withdrawing some of the sanctions the Trump administration imposed under its “maximum pressure” campaign in the interest of ensuring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the deal.

“We strongly endorse your call for Iran to return to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States to rejoin the agreement, and subsequent follow-on negotiations,” the text of the letter obtained by Jewish Insider reads. “We understand that returning to the agreement will require the selective lifting of some sanctions and rigorous implementation to verifiably ensure Iranian compliance.”

The letter adds that the U.S. should also subsequently seek to address Iran’s other malign activities, including its support for terrorism, non-nuclear weapons development, human rights violations and imprisonment of foreign political prisoners, through coordinated international diplomacy.

“Reinstating our international agreements and engaging in sustained diplomacy are the best ways to achieve long-term non-proliferation and urgent national security objectives, including the prevention of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and the laying of a foundation for progress on other critical issues,” the letter argues.

This approach runs counter to that proposed by AIPAC, which has called on the U.S. to negotiate a new, broader agreement before re-entering the deal. AIPAC said as recently as Wednesday that the U.S. should not roll back Trump-imposed sanctions until a more comprehensive deal is in place.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer also said in March that re-entering the deal as it stands would be “totally unacceptable.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on your election to become the next President of the United States, and we wish you success on behalf of our nation. We particularly welcome your commitment to the restoration of American leadership and diplomacy. With respect to Iran, we agree that diplomacy is the best path to halt and reverse Iran’s nuclear program, decrease tensions in the region, and facilitate our nation’s reincorporation into the international community. We are united in our support for swiftly taking the necessary diplomatic steps to restore constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and return both Iran and the United States to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a starting point for further negotiations. 

The JCPOA, an agreement you helped champion, verifiably constrained Iran’s nuclear program until after the United States’ unilateral withdrawal. Since 2019, Iran has changed course by increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and enriching uranium to a higher purity level, while also installing advanced centrifuges beyond the agreement’s limits. As a result, Iran’s breakout time of one year, as estimated under the JCPOA by the U.S. intelligence community, has decreased to a few months.  

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign has left Iran with an unconstrained nuclear program, failed effectively to address Iran’s other malign behavior, and greatly increased the likelihood of violent confrontation and conflict. This incoherent and provocative policy has increased regional tension and attacks against our troops and our partners and emboldened Iranian hardliners. As a result, the risk of potentially devastating miscalculation remains unnecessarily high. Re-engaging multilaterally on preventing the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon and re-opening channels of communication are essential to reversing these dangerous developments.

The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the internationally negotiated and UN-endorsed JCPOA undermined global non-proliferation efforts, fractured U.S. relationships with key allies, diminished U.S. leadership and influence, and reduced U.S. leverage in addressing other national security issues with Iran. Iran’s other destabilizing activities in the region, such as its support for terrorism, development of ballistic missiles, human rights violations against its own people, and holding of foreign political prisoners, including Americans, warrant strong and coordinated international diplomacy. The JCPOA does not prevent our ability to address these destabilizing activities. An unrestrained Iranian nuclear program would exacerbate these other threats posed by Iran and inspire a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

We know preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy will be a top priority of your administration, and we strongly believe that the JCPOA provides a critical framework to achieve this goal effectively. We strongly endorse your call for Iran to return to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States to rejoin the agreement, and subsequent follow-on negotiations. We understand that returning to the agreement will require the selective lifting of some sanctions and rigorous implementation to verifiably ensure Iranian compliance. 

Americans have seen first-hand how withdrawing from multilateral agreements and abandoning our allies jeopardizes our national security goals. As a result, it is critical to not be discouraged by efforts to preclude diplomacy. Reinstating our international agreements and engaging in sustained diplomacy are the best ways to achieve long-term non-proliferation and urgent national security objectives, including the prevention of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and the laying of a foundation for progress on other critical issues.  

We look forward to working with you on these important matters.

Sincerely,

Members of Congress

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