Iran nuclear deal moves toward revival but faces criticism in the US

WASHINGTON – Tough negotiations to restore an international nuclear deal with Iran may be coming to an end, and diplomats say an agreement will be reached after nearly a year of negotiations. But a backlash among its critics in the United States has only just begun.

Diplomats say the United States and Iran could soon decide whether to return to compliance with the 2015 accord that limited Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of some US economic sanctions. . A US official close to the talks on Thursday said “real progress” had been made, but a deal remained uncertain.

Among the key points, according to other officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the delicate negotiations, was how to reduce Iran’s nuclear fuel output to prevent it from rapidly developing bombs.

However, with one potential deal being worked out – the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said this week that “I really believe a deal is in sight” — Republicans, and even some Democrats, are trying to stop President Biden from bowing to it.

Republicans see the deal as a political ploy against Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats, who will defend slim majority in the House and Senate in the midterm elections. period this November.

John P. Hannah, national security adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney and a critic of the 2015 agreement, said if Congress voted on the accord, “it would be a bloody political battle. “. “And the message that should be taken from there is that this administration has made concessions to Iran.”

Hannah, who has also advised foreign ministers of both parties in previous administrations, said a rollback to the deal could raise concerns that the United States is abandoning its Middle Eastern allies, who also oppose it – specifically Israel. With foreign disapproval of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, the deal “could be another one of those things that will resonate with a segment of the American people,” said Hannah.

Mr. Biden has said that going back to the agreement would be evidence that the US is not following through with international agreements pushed aside by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the treaty, in 2018, following hundreds of US sanctions imposed on Iran, devastated the country’s economy and prompted its leaders to rapidly rebuild the program. Nuclear.

It is estimated that Iran can have enough nuclear fuel within a few weeks to produce a bomb, although building an actual warhead will take longer. Iran denies building a nuclear bomb and insists its program is for peaceful purposes. The UN atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said it had found no evidence that Iran was building a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Trump wants to force Iran to negotiate a new deal that will also hamper its missile program and support for proxy militias across the Middle East that have stirred violence from Iraq to Syria to Yemen. . Iran has staunchly refused to discuss its missile and military activities or negotiate matters beyond the nuclear deal.

Biden administration officials have emphasized that they also want to limit those programs, but diplomats recently said last month that they would not enter into any immediate deal with Iran.

That has upset some Democrats, who oppose the 2015 agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.

“I asked why we were trying to roll back the JCPOA – an agreement that was not enough from the start and still does not address some of the most serious national security concerns we have,” Sen. Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a speech on Feb. 1. He was referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal’s official name. nuclear deal with Iran, but Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. was also signed.

In his Senate address, Menendez noted that Iran’s ballistic missile program is the largest ballistic missile program in the region and that it has been used to attack US troops in neighboring Iraq. . Iran attempted to launch a satellite into orbit in December without success and last week unveiled a new long-range rocket that could reach Israel or other countries in the region. Yemeni rebels backed by Tehran for years have attacked Saudi Arabia and last month attacked the United Arab Emirates with missiles and attack drones.

Mr Menendez called Iran’s nuclear program a “clear and present danger”, which had “become disproportionately worse day by day”.

Even so, he said, “now is the time to revive our multilateral sanctions efforts and pursue new paths, new ideas, new solutions to a diplomatic resolution.”

Other Democrats have urged the Biden administration to rejoin the nuclear deal as quickly as possible. Senator Christopher Murphy, a Democrat of Connecticut, called it “ridiculous” for Republicans to say that Mr. Trump’s sanctions policy has deterred Iran’s military activities.

“Trump tried it,” Mr. Murphy said in his own speech on the Senate floor on Feb. 8. “It didn’t work. Iran has not discussed anything. “

“Flash news: Sometimes there are diplomatic arrangements in the best interest of the United States, and the JCPOA is certainly one of them,” Murphy said.

The Biden administration does not need to seek congressional authority to oppose the deal, although the 2015 law gives lawmakers the ability to review and potentially block it – a move Mr. would certainly veto.

Last week, 33 Republican senators warned in a letter to the White House that any deal was “potentially broken” by the next presidential administration “as early as January.” year 2025”. A letter signed by more than 100 Republicans in the House of Representatives this week made a similar threat.

The fact that the US could return to sanctions as early as three years if a new deal is reached but is canceled is the main reason why Iran is reluctant to commit to return to compliance. Leaders in Tehran want assurances that the deal will survive future presidents – something the Biden administration cannot promise.

“At the very least, their parliament, or the heads of parliament, including the Congress in the US, should issue a political statement declaring support for the deal and return to the JCPOA,” said Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, told the Financial Times. in an interview published on Wednesday.

Even if a new deal lasts three years, US diplomats and other advocates say it will still achieve key goals: ease Iran’s economic pain while slowing the march. suspected of having dropped a nuclear bomb.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, describes opposition to the accord as a handful of Democrats and a focused Republican attempt to “play politics.” with the foreign policy of the United States”. He said none of the Democrats who voted in favor of the 2015 deal lost out in the congressional midterm elections a year later.

“There is no political deterioration,” said Mr. Ben-Ami, whose group favors the deal and is advocating an extension.

“The beauty of making this argument a second time is that we actually have the facts from the first — the real experience both that policy is good and politics doesn’t hurt anyone who supports it, ‘ said Mr. Ben-Ami. “But here we are in 2022, going back and making the same argument.”

Farnaz Fassihi Contribution reports from New York. Iran nuclear deal moves toward revival but faces criticism in the US

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