Senators to Biden: ‘We must confront the reality’ on Iran nuclear program

A bipartisan group of more than 40 senators is sounding the alarm on Iran’s nuclear program, urging President Biden to use a mix of “diplomatic and economic tools.”

The letter to Biden — led by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — comes as Biden seeks to have the U.S. rejoin the Iran nuclear deal that former President Trump withdrew from in 2018, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“While we may have differing views on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015 and the overall approach of the Trump Administration’s maximum pressure campaign, we must confront the reality that Iran has accelerated its nuclear activity in alarming ways including increasing its centrifuge research and production and enriching uranium up to 20 percent,” the 41 senators wrote.

“Iran should have no doubt about America’s policy. Democrats and Republicans may have tactical differences, but we are united on preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior,” they continued.

The Biden administration has said it does not intend to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration that targeted a wide range of Iranian sectors until Tehran returns to compliance with the JCPOA — in particular, limiting the country’s uranium enrichment to 3.67 percent under the terms of the deal. 

Iran has rejected those terms, calling for the Biden administration and international community to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump administration before it will agree to return to compliance with the deal.

Tehran also has threatened to ban visits by international nuclear inspectors that are required by the terms of the deal if concessions are not reached.

Most Democratic lawmakers have thrown their support behind Biden’s efforts to rejoin the JCPOA. But Republicans have outright rejected rejoining the agreement even as the Biden administration says it would use it as a starting point to negotiate a “longer and stronger” deal that addresses Iran’s other behavior.

This includes confronting Iran over its ballistic missile program; funding for terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East; human rights abuses against its own citizens; and politically motivated arrests of American citizens.

The bipartisan letter sent Thursday acknowledged such differences between Democrats and Republicans.

“Looking ahead, we strongly believe that you should use the full force of our diplomatic and economic tools in concert with our allies on the United Nations Security Council and in the region to reach an agreement that prevents Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons and meaningfully constrains its destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and its ballistic missile program,” the senators wrote.

They also raised concerns about ongoing attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq by Iranian-backed militias and called for the administration to prioritize the release of American citizens held in Iran: Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi.

The lawmakers further called it “critical” for the administration to consult with key Middle East allies — Israel and Gulf nations – on a “path forward with Iran.”

The bipartisan letter from senators follows an initiative by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the House. 

Earlier this month, a bipartisan group of 140 House lawmakers called on the Biden administration to take a “comprehensive” approach to threats posed by Iran beyond engagement on the nuclear deal.

Tags Bob Menendez Donald Trump Iran Iran nuclear deal JCPOA Joe Biden Lindsey Graham Robert Menendez Tehran

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