No single Republican has ever proposed viable alternative to JCPOA: Democratic senator

June 17, 2022 - 20:16

TEHRAN - Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) has said he is still waiting to hear a single Republican or anybody opposed to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to present a “viable alternative path”.

“Diplomacy is the only viable path, and I have still yet to hear a single Republican or a single opponent of the [2015 deal] articulate a viable alternative path,” Murphy said, Politico reported on Thursday.

Murphy adds, “There is no backup. For people who think there’s some military option that’s feasible, they simply haven’t studied the facts on the ground.”

Many Democrats continue to believe that the only way to the nuclear dispute with Iran is to negotiate re-entry into the JCPOA, which enforced restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, Politico said.

The remarks by the Democratic senator come as Biden administration officials assured senators at a Wednesday classified briefing that the U.S. would ramp up sanctions on Iran if needed as hopes dim for a diplomatic pathway, according to attendees.

Lawmakers in both parties press the Biden administration to articulate a backup plan that could prevent Iran from becoming what they call “a nuclear power”. 

Talks to revive the Obama-era agreement with Tehran that Donald Trump ripped up in 2018, began in April 2021. However, the talks in Vienna have officially stalemated since March.

“For all intents and purposes, there are no talks,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said after the briefing. “The question is whether leaving the door open to the potential deal … is something that’s desirable as a strategic position for the administration to say to the world, ‘We tried, here it is, they’re unwilling to do it.’”

Though talks in Vienna have stopped, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and his deputy Enrique Mora are still mediating between Iran and the United States. In addition, the Sultanate of Oman and Qatar are also trying to bridge differences between Tehran and Washington to resuscitate the agreement.

Biden administration officials conveyed to senators that existing sanctions against Iran would be maintained, at a minimum. When asked if the administration is considering additional punitive measures as a way to curb Iran’s nuclear program, Menendez responded: “I would stay tuned.”

Senators who attended Wednesday’s briefing described a range of possible next steps for U.S. policy toward Iran, from continuing to search for a diplomatic solution to imposing new sanctions and huddling with partners in the region. President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel next month to two of those partner countries, Saudi Arabia and Israel, for talks on a wide range of issues, including Iran and global energy prices.

State Department officials either declined to comment or did not respond to questions about the briefing. Officials have previously claimed they have all the legal authorities they need to impose sanctions for both nuclear and non-nuclear activity by Iran.

Wednesday’s briefing featured Brett McGurk, the White House’s top Middle East official, and Rob Malley, the top envoy for the Iran talks, updating senators on what members of both parties say is the close-to-impossible task of turning back the clock on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“There’s not a lot of clarity [on a] plan B,” said Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). “Some of that is just a function of the fact that there aren’t a lot of great options here.”

Efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord suffered a setback earlier this year after Biden decided to maintain the terrorist designation for Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC). Iranian negotiators were demanding that the IRGC be removed from the U.S. government’s blacklist, but the administration refused unless Iran was willing to offer concessions on non-nuclear issues.

Menendez, who opposed the Obama administration’s deal, has already said publicly that Iran “now has enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon” and has urged the White House to admit that a return to the original agreement is no longer the best path. Nearly all Republicans agree with him.

“I just don’t think it will meet the results that they think it’s going to meet,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said of reviving the 2015 pact. “All Iran is seeking is some short-term sanctions relief so they can invest more money in their military capabilities — not just their nuclear program.”

It’s not the first time that the Biden team’s Iran policy has faced bipartisan rebukes. Last month, a majority of senators voted in favor of a symbolic measure stating that the IRGC’s terrorist designation should be maintained and that any diplomatic agreement with Iran should also address other issues in the region.

Iran has been insisting that its nuclear program is purely peaceful. It has also been saying that its decision to remove caps on its nuclear activities are in response to illegal sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

The Trump administration quit the nuclear deal in May 2018 in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that

Iran remained fully loyal to the terms of the JCPOA even one year after Trump ordered pull out of the agreement. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian has been repeatedly insisting that his country is firm to reach a “good, strong and lasting agreement” on the nuclear issue.

Iran started to remove limits on its nuclear activities after the European parties to the agreement failed to compensate Iran for the U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s move was based on paragraph 36 of the JCPOA which has provided a mechanism to resolve disputes and allows one side, under certain circumstances, to stop complying with the deal if the other side is out of compliance.

Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, in a tweet on June 14 said, “It would be a failure of US leadership and complicate future diplomatic efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran if Biden allows this window to close.” 

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