Menendez, Graham lobbying European allies to open negotiations with Iran

Menendez, Graham lobbying European allies to open negotiations with Iran
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan pair of senators is lobbying European allies to bring Iran back to the negotiating table to end its nuclear weapons ambitions, curb its missile program and end its support of terrorist proxies.

The plan laid out on Tuesday by Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden holds off punishing Saudi crown prince, despite US intel Senate confirms Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador The Memo: Biden bets big on immigration MORE (D-N.J.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHere's who Biden is now considering for budget chief House Democratic leaders back Shalanda Young for OMB after Tanden withdrawal The Memo: Is Trump mounting a comeback — or finally fading? MORE (R-S.C.) is separate from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign aimed at bankrupting the Islamic Republic’s support for proxy fighting forces and developing nuclear weapons.

“Sen. Graham and I have been talking with our European partners about a multilateral strategy to get Iran back to the table and advance three clear goals,” Menendez, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington D.C.

“No nuclear weapons. No threatening intercontinental ballistic missiles, and no support for terrorism," he elaborated.

The Democratic senator made his proposal in front of more than 18,000 pro-Israel members of an organization that firmly opposed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

In 2015, AIPAC board members spoke out against the deal, writing in a report that “we have come to the unfortunate conclusion that this deal does not achieve the minimum requirements necessary for an acceptable agreement.”

President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee MORE pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, although Tehran and the other signatories, including France, the U.K., Germany, Russia and China, remain in the deal.

Tehran has balked at the sanctions and increased its uranium enrichment as provocation, testing the limits of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Menendez on Tuesday criticized the Trump administration’s sanctions campaign as lacking strategy.

“Maximum sanctions pressure on its own is a tactic, not a strategy,” the senator said. “We need a strategy, one that uses diplomacy to ensure Iran has no pathway to nuclear weapons.”

Menendez’s proposal includes bringing in Gulf countries to partner with Iran on a regional nuclear energy program for “explicitly peaceful purposes,” with the U.S and international community providing oversight.

“A nuclear fuel bank, administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency, with U.S. veto power could prevent misuse and end any pathway to a nuclear weapon,” he said.

Menendez and Graham first announced their efforts to partner with European allies last month after meetings at the Munich Security Conference and in an interview with The Washington Post.

Trump administration officials say their maximum pressure campaign on Iran is aimed at forcing a hard choice for Tehran in its behavior, limiting funds available to build up its weapons programs and bankrupting the Islamic Republic’s support for proxy fighting forces across the region.

This includes Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis in Yemen, Shiite militias in Iraq and its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad against rebels in Syria’s civil war.  

“We have a strategic campaign to change their behavior,” Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHouthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen China plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it Trump: 'I can't imagine' any Republican would beat me in 2024 primary if I run MORE said at a hearing on Iran policy before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.