April 13, 2021

Kaine, Murphy & Colleagues Urge President Biden to Return to Iran Nuclear Agreement under a Compliance for Compliance Approach

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, and Chris Murphy, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, led their Senate colleagues in a letter to President Biden expressing the urgent need to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to peacefully and effectively stem the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. In the letter, the senators emphasized the importance of also addressing Iran’s taking of U.S. hostages as well as destabilization of the region through cyberattacks, support for militant groups, and ballistic missile development with similar urgency. 

In 2018, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA despite the deal’s success at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  His failed “maximum pressure” strategy led to Iran having 14 times the level of Low Enriched Uranium it had under the JCPOA.  This week, the U.S. and Iran are continuing indirect talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the JCPOA, which is supported by the other members of deal including the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany and Russia. 

“While the damage of the last four years has left our country facing numerous challenges across the globe, there is no question that one of your early pressing national security priorities should be to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to address the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” the Senators wrote. “We strongly support returning to the JCPOA and using a ‘compliance for compliance’ approach as a starting point to reset U.S. relations with Iran. Should Iran be willing to return to compliance with the limitations set by the JCPOA, the United States should be willing to rejoin the deal and provide the sanctions relief required under the agreement.”

Along with Senators Kaine and Murphy, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Rev. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM).

Full text of the letter here and below:

Dear President Biden:

We are pleased that your presidency has marked our country’s return to the values-based foreign policy that has for decades served as the bedrock principle of America’s approach to the world. It is crucial that America reassert its leadership and moral standing on the global stage as we pursue our national security interests.

While the damage of the last four years has left our country facing numerous challenges across the globe, there is no question that one of your early pressing national security priorities should be to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to address the threat of Iran’s nuclear program. As such, we are encouraged that indirect talks are underway in Vienna aimed at reviving the nuclear agreement. 

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and pursue a “maximum pressure” strategy not only failed to yield results but has brought Iran closer to the capacity to develop nuclear weapons. As a result of this failed policy, according to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report in February 2021, Iran had 4,390 kilograms of Low Enriched Uranium, more than 14 times what it had during full implementation of the JCPOA and enough for multiple nuclear weapons if enriched to weapons grade.

Other missteps of the Trump Administration include banning Iranians from traveling to the United States and refusing to provide adequate and timely humanitarian licensing to ensure unencumbered delivery of humanitarian assistance to Iran, including for medicines and medical supplies necessary to aid innocent Iranians ravaged by COVID-19. We welcome your decision to reverse the travel ban and would support actions in line with U.S. values that you promised during the campaign to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not prevent the Iranian people from receiving critical vaccines and other medicines in the midst of a global pandemic.

Most worrisome, the Trump Administration’s numerous military incidents in the Middle East repeatedly and needlessly brought us to the brink of war. These missteps have made Iran a more dangerous and destabilizing force in the region, leaving our country and our allies visibly less safe than when President Obama left office.

We strongly support returning to the JCPOA and using a “compliance for compliance” approach as a starting point to reset U.S. relations with Iran. Should Iran be willing to return to compliance with the limitations set by the JCPOA, the United States should be willing to rejoin the deal and provide the sanctions relief required under the agreement. This return would also mark your Administration’s adherence to the congressional reporting requirements of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, ensuring that Congress is regularly informed of all aspects of Iranian compliance. This includes your certification every 90 days that Iran is “transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing” the agreement and that Iran has not taken any action to advance a nuclear weapons program. A “compliance for compliance” policy will also help restore U.S. diplomatic credibility and repair relations with our European allies, who have continued to support the deal in our absence. 

Even so, we recognize that the threat posed by Iran extends well beyond its nuclear program. Iran’s actions—including hostage taking and unlawful imprisonment of U.S. persons, military and financial support for destabilizing regional proxies, horrific human rights abuses, cyber attacks, and ballistic missile development—have exacerbated instability, conflict, and human suffering in the region and continue to threaten the United States and our friends and allies. These issues must be addressed with the same urgency as our efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

To that end, we also call on your Administration to build on its initial mutual return with Iran to the JCPOA by promptly engaging in follow-on discussions on a regional diplomatic strategy to restrain Iran that involves not only the P5+1 but also Israel and the Gulf States. This should include efforts to engage on key issues of regional concern, including Iran’s missile program and its support for surrogates and proxies, and we encourage you to extend the nuclear limitations in the JCPOA over time either through a new nuclear agreement or by an extension of the existing one. Finally, we request your assurance that you will prioritize the release of all Americans and U.S Lawful Permanent Residents in any discussions with Iran.  

We look forward to working with you to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to promote enhanced regional security in the Middle East, and we would welcome a detailed briefing on what a strict “compliance for compliance” policy looks like and what would be required of the U.S. as part of this policy. We are grateful for your leadership at this particularly difficult time in our history and pledge to work closely with you in the 117th Congress to protect the American people, reestablish the primacy of U.S. diplomacy, and secure our interests aboard.   

Sincerely,

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