As nuclear negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers enter their final stages, pressure on the White House against entering a bad deal is increasing from both sides of the aisle.
"This is really the decisive period during which we'll be able to determine whether a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in the offing, or if it’s not,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said.
On Wednesday, a group of House GOP members sent U.S. President Joe Biden a letter warning that any deal with Iran without approval from Congress would “meet the same fate” as the previous deal that was signed under President Barack Obama.
“If you forge an agreement with the Supreme Leader of Iran without formal Congressional approval, it will be temporary and non-binding and will meet the same fate as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” reads the letter that was signed by nearly 200 House Republicans.
Among the handful of Democrats who opposed the JCPOA back in 2015, was Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey who currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“At this point, we seriously have to ask – what exactly are we trying to salvage?” Menendez said in an hour-long speech on the Senate floor two weeks ago.
“We cannot allow Iran to threaten us into a bad deal or an interim agreement that allows it to continue to build its nuclear capacity. Nor should we cling to the scope of an agreement that it seems some are holding on to for nostalgia’s sake,” he added.
In a conversation with AIPAC on Thursday, the New Jersey senator noted that only few of his Democratic colleagues have either watched or read his speech, and that some of them are not fully immersed on the challenges that Iran poses.
Despite statements from negotiators in Vienna indicating that the talks are nearing a conclusion, Menendez said that it seems to be “a difficult stretch.” He quoted Bob Malley, U.S. special envoy for Iran, who said a few months ago that “at some point Iran would have delayed so long that there is no value in a deal.”
That point is now, Menendez said.
“No deal is better than a bad deal,” he stressed. “I see no evidence of the desire for a longer and stronger deal.”
Menendez also believes that former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the original deal “without a plan, a strategy and allies” was a mistake that got Iran closer to the threshold.
“Neither of those situations was particularly good,” he noted.
The idea of reaching an interim agreement with Iran, he said, “aims to get Iran back in time.”
Menendez pointed out that although such a temporary deal may buy the U.S. a few more months, it is not likely to address prominent threats that include Iran’s ballistic missiles program, Iranian proxies that can outmatch America’s allies in the region, and the sunset clause which sees the JCPOA’s expiration date in 2024. He said the U.S. must get clear insights into Iran’s weaponization of a nuclear bomb and its progress toward that goal.
The top Democrat urged the Biden administration to ramp up pressure on Iran and show deterrence, but also to consider creative diplomatic initiatives – such as the one he and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham have recently put forward. Their bipartisan initiative suggests that the U.S. would “adopt a policy that allows any Middle Eastern state access to nuclear fuel if they forgo uranium enrichment and reprocessing.”
The idea is to establish a new regional nuclear fuel bank for the Middle East that would allow the commercial development of nuclear power throughout the region, while at the same time eliminate the need for dangerous and destabilizing domestic nuclear programs.
Menendez and Graham believe that U.S. allies in the region could welcome such an initiative and consider joining it. If Tehran does not express any interest, it would reveal its true colors since there is no reason to enrich uranium if your goal is to have peaceful nuclear power.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.