Lawmakers say new Iran nuclear deal unlikely
Senators from both parties briefed recently by senior Biden administration officials on negotiations with Iran say they doubt Tehran will accept a new deal to limit its development of nuclear weapons.
Lawmakers say the administration has a deal on the table, but Iran shows little willingness to reinstate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which imposed sweeping restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions.
Former President Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 accord, which was one of former President Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements.
Biden officials said in January they were close to reinstating the deal, but warned at the time that it would be up to Tehran to accept it.
Four months later, Iran has still not shown serious interest in accepting the offer from the United States and its European allies, meaning that one of President Biden’s top foreign policy priorities remains in limbo.
“I’m not optimistic there will be such a deal. The administration feels that strategically it makes sense to keep the offer on the table, but I don’t see the way forward. That’s my own point. view,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) told The Hill.
Menendez said agreeing to a new deal is a proposal that divides Iran’s political establishment, making it difficult to revive the deal.
“I think there is a conflict inside Iran, so there is no clear path,” he said.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, “You just don’t know what Iranians think.
“I guess at this point it’s not clear whether the Iranians want a deal or not. There are disagreements within Iran itself,” he said. United have made a proposal.The ball is really in the court of the Iranians.
A senior Republican senator on the foreign relations panel who attended the administration’s briefing on the talks on Wednesday said the prospects for a deal were “not encouraging.”
And Sen. James Risch (Idaho), the Republican’s top foreign relations official, said he didn’t know what was going on in the talks when they started, but has now been updated.
“I know where the negotiations are and they should have been over. They promised us it would end in February if there was no deal,” he said, referring to what some senators believed was an assurance from administration officials not to let the talks drag on without Iran joining.
Several senators said there were signs that Iran was unwilling to cooperate with Western allies by allowing surveillance of its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, Iran turned off two surveillance cameras used by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor one of its nuclear facilities.
The United States, Britain, Germany and France submitted a draft resolution to the UN earlier this month criticizing Iran for failing to explain why traces of uranium were found on undeclared nuclear sites.
A senator who requested anonymity to discuss the talks said Iran was making an “unreasonable request” of the administration asking it to drop the designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization under the of any new nuclear agreement.
“The chances of them getting a deal without giving up on this are slim,” the lawmaker said of Iran’s request.
The Biden administration has so far denied the request.
The senator also cited the shutdown of UN surveillance cameras as troublesome.
“The administration has publicly stated that it is still willing to negotiate a JCPOA 2.0, but the steps taken by the Iranian regime are making it more difficult every day,” the lawmaker said. “I don’t think a deal is imminent.”
Some foreign policy experts believe Iran is less keen on seeking sanctions relief than it was under the Obama administration because it receives substantial revenue from oil exports.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said last month that his country’s oil exports had doubled since August.
Iran’s central bank announced in February that it had made $18.6 billion in oil sales in the first half of the Persian year, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the embargo on Russian oil exports will drive up prices.
Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute specializing in foreign policy and defense policy, said “the problem is that the ball is in Iran’s court.”
She said the administration had “given up a ton” of concessions to get Iran to agree to a new plan, but so far without success.
“The Iranians have shown no signs of changing,” she said. “They are exporting large amounts of oil right now.”
“Also, they do illicit business with the Russians, and it makes money for them,” she added. “From their point of view, the geopolitical circumstances are going to be advantageous for Iran and for their whole notion of a resistance economy. They will be part of this network with China and Russia which will be able to do business together.
The United States announced last month that it would impose sanctions on an oil smuggling ring backed by senior Russian government officials and those of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Al-Quds Force.
The senators sent a strong signal to the administration regarding its talks with Iran in early May when a bipartisan majority voted for a motion sponsored by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) barring the president from lifting the designation of Foreign Terrorist Organization of the Revolutionary Guards.
Lankford said the motion was intended to send a message from the Senate that “we do not want the United States to enter into a nuclear deal with Iran that ignores their past behavior and current intentions.”
Sixteen Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (NY), joined Republicans in voting for the measure.