Middle East/North Africa

Democratic senator says Biden would need tougher nuclear deal with Iran

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Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday said he would support a potential Biden administration rejoining the nuclear deal with Iran if the deal corrected shortfalls of the Obama-era agreement.

Menendez, who could serve as chairman if Democrats take a majority in the Senate, said that a Biden administration would have to confront the challenges of Iran in the present and not the parameters of the deal as it was signed in 2015. 

“I’m sure that Vice President Biden, should he become president, will want to deal with the totality of all of those issues, and that to me, suggests a JCPOA-plus,” he said, referring to the Obama-era deal, named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Biden has said, and his campaign website states, that as president, he would rejoin the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Tehran if it returns to compliance with the deal.

Menendez said that the realities of Iran today require a JCPOA-like agreement with the U.S., but he underscored the need for one that goes further in restricting Iran’s military and nuclear capabilities. 

“Anyone who believes that just going back to the JCPOA, including some of my strongest colleagues who supported the JCPOA, recognize that more has to be done than just the JCPOA,” he said.

Menendez made his comments during a conversation unveiling a report scrutinizing President Trump’s foreign policy record and criticizing his first term as chaotic.

The report said that the president’s “America First” policy has alienated allies, emboldened autocrats and damaged America’s standing in the world. 

The report lays out how a new administration could begin to rehabilitate U.S. interest in foreign policy and, on Iran specifically, Menendez says he believes the U.S. needs to engage allies in a reworking of the nuclear agreement. 

The United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia all remain signatories to the deal that Trump withdrew from in 2018. Since then, Trump has instituted a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions as part of its efforts to squeeze Tehran financially, isolate it from the international community and try to force it to negotiate a new deal.

Critics of the Trump administration’s approach say that the U.S. pulling out of the deal has emboldened Iran to violate the terms of the agreement by increasing its uranium enrichment and shortening the time span it would need to achieve building a nuclear weapon.  

Menendez, who opposed the JCPOA during the Obama administration, said the Trump administration failed to mobilize allies to address the pitfalls of the agreement, which included a sunset clause on Iran that allows the Islamic Republic to engage in nuclear activity and build up its military arsenals. 

“Even the French were talking to us about going beyond what the JCPOA was,” Menendez said, “recognizing its shortfalls on the sunset questions, and also dealing with continuing [the] arms embargo, with missile proliferation, and with other elements. We missed out on that opportunity.”

Tags Barack Obama Bob Menendez Donald Trump foreign relations Iran nuclear deal JCPOA Joe Biden

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