Iran Debate In Washington Heats Up As Biden Nominee Hearings Continue
Wendy Sherman, the Obama Administration official who led United States negotiators in talks negotiations leading to 2015 Iran nuclear deal, sought to placate congressional concerns Wednesday [March 3] as Iran loomed large in her Senate confirmation hearing as Deputy Secretary of State.
Many Republicans and some Democrats are concerned about President Joe Biden’s stated policy of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 before imposing stringent sanctions. JCPOA opponents have demanded a more comprehensive agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran covering regional security and defense.
Sherman took a conciliatory approach, acknowledging objections from critics who say regional conditions have changed and that a return to the JCPOA would harm US interests and those of Israel and the Gulf Arab monarchies.
“I remain clear-eyed about the threat that Iran poses to our interests and those of our allies,” Sherman said. “I would note that 2021 is not 2015, when the deal was agreed, nor 2016, when it was implemented. The facts on the ground have changed, the geopolitics of the region have changed, and the way forward must similarly change.”
The leading Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator James Risch of Idaho, said that “rejoining the old nuclear accord” was “a non-starter.” He told Sherman he was deeply disappointed in “your performance” in negotiating the JCPOA.
As the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the nuclear deal have apparently been stalled by Tehran insisting Washington lift sanctions before it returns to JCPOA structures, Republicans and some Democrats have appealed to the White House not to give up the “leverage” of Trump-era sanctions. Continued sanctions, they argue, would prevent Tehran advancing its nuclear program and pursuing an interventionist regional policy.
Supporters of a US return to the JCPOA argue Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ led Iran to expand its nuclear program and strengthened those in Tehran who opposed the 2015 deal. This week a coalition including the Presbyterian and United Methodist churches, the Jewish group J Street, and VoteVets wrote to Biden reminding him that the 2020 Democratic Party election platform supported reviving the JCPOA and that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.”
A group of over 100 former senior diplomats sent a letter on Monday to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging Sherman’s swift confirmation. Among the signatories were Trump’s former special envoy for Syria, and former Undersecretaries of State Paula Dobriansky and Thomas Shannon.
The Republicans’ concentration on Iran appears motivated in part by a desire to undermine Biden more conciliatory approach to Iran. But the publicity being generated, and the likelihood that Republicans will introduce legislation on Iran, is seen by some involved as a means both to dissuade Western companies from dealing with Tehran, if the JCPOA is revived, and to strengthen those in Tehran arguing that a future Republican president would again tear up any agreement.