Biden is working to stop Iran’s nuclear program — it’s time for Democrats to get behind him

Associated Press/Andrew Harnik
President Joe Biden speaks about the war in Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 28, 2022, in Washington.

The Biden administration’s efforts to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, have reached a critical and uncertain point. President Biden and his diplomatic team have done remarkable work to roll back the grave errors of the Trump years. A lasting agreement is still the best way to cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon and avoid catastrophic war throughout the Middle East. Yet, at a moment when courageous choices must be made to finalize reentry into the JCPOA, the megaphone wielded by deal opponents has seemed much larger than the one used by deal supporters.

Colleagues in Congress: let’s give President Biden the support he needs to secure a return to the JCPOA as soon as possible. We won’t get this chance again.

I served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2015 when the Iran Nuclear Deal was first signed. I sat with President Obama and his national security team, and technical experts as they showed in detail how a deal, backed by enforcement and oversight measures, would prevent the Iranian government from ever progressing toward a nuclear weapon. After reviewing the evidence, I was convinced that the deal would cut off all paths to an Iranian nuclear weapon, and that’s exactly what it did. For three years under the JCPOA, the United States and the world rested easier knowing that Iran’s enriched uranium stockpiles were strictly capped and subject to frequent and unfettered IAEA inspections. The specter of a nuclear arms race in one of the world’s most volatile and strategically sensitive regions could recede. For three years, regular people in Iran also rested a little easier. After all, before the deal they suffered under sanctions that punished an entire nation for the policy choices of a repressive regime which they could not freely influence.

Then, in 2018, over the loud objections of many of us in Congress, our allies, and the expert community, President Trump made the disastrous decision to unilaterally withdraw from the deal. Sanctions returned, and so did Iran’s uranium enrichment program — both worse than ever. Trump instituted a so-called “maximum pressure” campaign. More and more sanctions in a misguided strategy to force Iran to totally fold or, failing that, to destroy the foundations for any future diplomacy between Iran and the international community. The historical record is clear: at best, there are serious limits to what sanctions and tough rhetoric alone can achieve. In this case, all that the Trump administration’s strategy accomplished was to shred America’s reputation as a country that stuck to its word. Worse, they pushed Iran closer to a nuclear weapon than it had ever been before. Even the former chief of Israeli intelligence, Efraim Halevy, called Trump’s approach to Iran a “grave mistake” and “dismal failure.”

When President Biden came into office, after campaigning on a promise to rejoin the deal, the situation was dire. Trump’s actions had damaged American credibility, and some estimates suggested that Iran had built up the capacity to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon in under three months. Yet, through dogged diplomacy, the president and his dedicated team of negotiators have brought us to the cusp of returning to a deal that would once again cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

Diplomacy means compromise. There is no magic argument which will force Iran to accept all of our demands. Opponents of the Iran Nuclear Deal have tried to paint needed compromise as some kind of capitulation, using poison pills from the failed “maximum pressure” era to make a return to the deal appear politically risky. But it would be a mistake to cede the argument to them — everyday Americans know the value of this deal. They understand that it can save countless lives and prevent our nation from being drawn back into wars in the Middle East which we cannot afford to fight—now, more than ever. That is why the American public opposed Trump’s withdrawal in 2018 and supports by wide margins a return to the deal today.

Doing the right thing in foreign policy often takes tremendous courage. I commend President Biden for his efforts to bring us so close to a successful return to the deal, and I urge him to do what it takes to get us over the finish line. To my colleagues in Congress, we need to make ourselves heard on this issue, to underscore how important it is to not let this moment pass us by. Though many have spoken out about the importance of negotiations on the floor, in committee, and to your constituents, many others who support the deal have remained silent, and our silence is beginning to be misconstrued as doubt. There is no doubt — rejoining the JCPOA is a crucial foreign policy priority and needs to happen as soon as possible.

We have an opportunity to end the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran with the stroke of a pen — let’s seize it.

Alan Lowenthal represents California’s 47th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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