Leading Democratic senators are among those who are wary that the Biden administration's attempts to revive the Iran nuclear deal will result in a weaker agreement, The Hill reported on Monday.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said that if Tehran is merely asked to delay the development of its nuclear weapons program, it likely won't be good enough for him to support the deal.
The New Jersey Democrat is among many who say they have been mostly kept in the dark about the details, saying that "there's been a little bit of insight as to how things are going, but there's no bigger picture insight. I don't know what the deal is."
Menendez sad that without information about what is happening in the negotiations, "it's hard to judge."
One the one hand, "if Iran is going to roll back its nuclear program, if it's finally going to come clean on its efforts to achieve nuclear weapons and give access to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to sites that they've been asking and demanding for and haven't gotten to, if Iran is going to constrain its missile program … those are good things," Menendez said, but reiterated that if it "is just a rolling back of time, you can't roll back knowledge" of the advances Tehran has made in the past few years.
Menendez also wondered if it is a good time to negotiate a new deal when U.S. relations with Russia and China, two signatories to the original 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that former President Donald Trump pulled out of three years later, are at a multi-year low, especially since a new agreement could steer billions of dollars to Russia by allowing it to continue doing nuclear energy business with Iran, The Hill reported.
Menendez stressed that "if all you're going to get is a limited period of time before breakout, that doesn't deal with all the other challenges of a nuclear weapon and certainly of Iran's malign activity," adding that "if somehow it gives relief to Iran and if somehow Russia gets any benefit from it, obviously that would be a problem."
Menendez was one of four Democrats who voted against the first deal that former President Barack Obama cut in 2015, along with Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Cardin, the second most senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized that the deteriorating ties with Russia and China pose obstacles to arriving at a new deal and that probably it is better to wait in hopes of achieving a stronger deal later.
He stressed that "we know the dynamics among the partners are dicey at best," adding that "I'm not necessarily for rushing into an agreement. I still believe we should have a longer agreement," referring to the terms of the original deal that required Iran to reduce its centrifuges for a period of only 10 years.
Democrats who defend the Biden administration's talks with Iran, however, argue that even a weaker deal than the JCPOA is needed, with Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., stressing that "we've got one war going on and President Biden has made clear Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. The only question is, 'How do you prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon?' I think this is the best route."
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