Senate

Democrats back up Biden bid to return to Iran nuclear deal

Twenty-seven Senate Democrats backed President Biden's efforts to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal amid indirect negotiations over the fate of the Obama-era pact.

The Democrats, led by Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, and Chris Murphy (Conn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, panned then-President Trump's 2018 decision to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, which led Iran to increase enrichment of its uranium beyond the limits set forth in the deal. 

"While the damage of the last four years has left our country facing numerous challenges across the globe, there is no question that one of your early pressing national security priorities should be to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to address the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program," the senators wrote in a letter to Biden.

"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. 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 letter provides backup for Biden, whose approach to Iran has come under fire from Republicans and some Democrats. 

The administration has maintained that it will not rejoin the pact and lift U.S. sanctions unless Iran curbs its uranium enrichment. Tehran, however, maintains that sanctions must first be lifted for it to make any changes to its nuclear program. 

European intermediaries are trying to mend that divide during the second week of negotiations in Vienna. However, while all parties involve have said the talks have been productive, no tangible agreements have yet been made.

Those talks were thrown into jeopardy this week after an attack on Iran's Natanz nuclear facility damaged its centrifuges there. Israel is suspected of being behind the incident though has a policy of never confirming or denying its involvement in such strikes. 

Then earlier Tuesday, Iran announced it would boost the purity of uranium it enriches to 60 percent, far beyond the limits of the nuclear deal. 

While the incidents have not yet derailed negotiations, they have done little to bolster Biden's argument to the American public that the deal is salvageable.

The White House is working to maintain support among Democrats to bolster his standing at home in the face of virtually unanimous GOP opposition to rejoining the nuclear pact.

Democrats too have been critical of the deal, saying it should be expanded to cover other issues such as Iran's support for proxy forces across the Middle East and its ballistic missile program.

However, the letter Friday from a majority of the Senate Democratic Caucus said those issues could be discussed at another time.

"[W]e also call on your Administration to build on its initial mutual return with Iran 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," they wrote, referring to the deal's other signatories and key Middle East allies. 

"This should include efforts to engage on key issues of regional concern, including Iran's missile program and its support for surrogates and proxies, and we encourage you to extend the nuclear limitations in the JCPOA over time either through a new nuclear agreement or by an extension of the existing one. Finally, we request your assurance that you will prioritize the release of all Americans and U.S Lawful Permanent Residents in any discussions with Iran."

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