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Negotiations to restore the Iran nuclear deal were held in Vienna on April 15, 2021. (Photo: E.U. Delegation in Vienna/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Negotiations to restore the Iran nuclear deal were held in Vienna on April 15, 2021. (Photo: E.U. Delegation in Vienna/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

50+ DNC Leaders Urge Biden to Lift Sanctions and Rejoin Iran Nuclear Deal

"As Democrats, we must put diplomacy at the center of our foreign policy and prove that America fulfills its commitments as a responsible actor on the world stage," says Rep. Barbara Lee, who signed the letter.

Jessica Corbett

After weeks of negotiations in Europe, more than 50 members of the Democratic National Committee and state party leaders sent a letter Monday urging U.S. President Joe Biden to scrap his predecessor's economic sanctions against Iran and return to the nuclear deal that was reached in 2015.

"Lifting Trump's bad-faith sanctions—which he explicitly imposed on Iran in order to make a return to the JCPOA next-to-impossible—should not be treated as a concession to Iran, but rather as an effort to restore U.S. credibility and enhance American security."
—53 Democrats

The letter (pdf), organized by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, notes that former President Donald Trump not only "recklessly reneged" on the Iran nuclear deal—officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—in May 2018, despite warnings that doing so heightened the risk of war, but then engaged in a "maximum pressure" campaign that featured devastating sanctions.

"The only result has been a vastly expanded Iranian nuclear program, increased regional instability, near U.S.-Iran war on multiple occasions, and severe economic sanctions that have contributed to a dire humanitarian crisis inside Iran," the letter says. "As a result, America's credibility has been severely damaged and its national security damaged. Trump's decision made America less safe."

The Democrats commend Biden "for pledging to return to the JCPOA and for beginning a multilateral diplomatic process with other world powers to return all sides to compliance with the accord through the compliance-for-compliance formula," adding that the deal "is of such critical value to U.S. national security that the issue of who goes first should not become an obstacle."

"Moreover, lifting Trump's bad-faith sanctions—which he explicitly imposed on Iran in order to make a return to the JCPOA next-to-impossible—should not be treated as a concession to Iran, but rather as an effort to restore U.S. credibility and enhance American security," the letter emphasizes.

The Obama administration, for which Biden served as vice president, "did not only prove that diplomacy with Iran works, it also proved that no other policy tool advances American security more effectively than diplomacy," the letter adds, referencing the initial agreement, the result of nearly two years of negotiations. "We urge you to continue on this proven path of success."

Key signatories include Minnesota Attorney General and former DNC Deputy Chair Keith Ellison, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), human rights lawyer and former Virginia Democratic Committeewoman Yasmine Taeb, DNC Youth Council Chair Michael Kapp, DNC member and Climate Hawks Vote co-founder RL Miller, DNC member and Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner, and Michelle Deatrick, founding chair of the DNC Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis.

"Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal and lifting Trump's bad-faith sanctions is not only supported by rank-and-file Democrats in red, purple, and blue states, but also by our Democratic Party leaders from all across the country," Taeb said. "President Biden pledged to chart a new course and called for a foreign policy for the middle class that will end forever wars and focus on the immediate domestic crises and that begins by rejoining the 2015 nuclear deal and rejecting Trump's failed approach on Iran."

As a presidential candidate, Biden pledged to return to the deal—which tracks with his decades in U.S. politics.

"A Politico review of available records, speeches, and congressional statements found that when it came to Iran, Biden has long tried to walk a careful path, one that is wary, yet hopeful; politically aware, yet politically risky; and often focused on incremental gains in the hopes of seeding long-term results," foreign affairs correspondent Nahal Toosi reported Sunday.

Both Ellison and Lee highlighted the importance of their party—and president—embracing diplomacy rather than Trump's more hostile approach.

"Returning to the JCPOA is essential for reassuring the world that the United States' word is good," said Lee. "As Democrats, we must put diplomacy at the center of our foreign policy and prove that America fulfills its commitments as a responsible actor on the world stage."

According to Ellison, "It is essential for the United States to return to the Iran nuclear deal, which necessitates the lifting of Trump’s bad-faith sanctions."

"The Democratic Party should fight to end rampant militarization and promote multilateralism that enabled the United States to resolve the nuclear issue with Iran without a single shot being fired," he added.

The letter, which comes after similar recent messages from dozens of Senate Democrats and advocacy groups, follows New York Times reporting that "after five weeks of shadow boxing in Vienna hotel rooms—where the two sides pass notes through European intermediaries—it has become clear that the old deal, strictly defined, does not work for either of them anymore, at least in the long run."

As the Times reported Sunday:

The Iranians are demanding that they be allowed to keep the advanced nuclear-fuel production equipment they installed after Mr. Trump abandoned the pact, and integration with the world financial system beyond what they achieved under the 2015 agreement.

The Biden administration, for its part, says that restoring the old deal is just a steppingstone. It must be followed immediately by an agreement on limiting missiles and support of terrorism—and making it impossible for Iran to produce enough fuel for a bomb for decades. The Iranians say no way.

Meanwhile, the Times noted, the Israelis "continue a campaign of sabotage and assassination to cripple the Iranian program—and perhaps the negotiations themselves."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Monday told Reuters that "the negotiations are tough and laborious but all participants are conducting the talks in a constructive atmosphere."

"However, time is running out," Maas added, emphasizing that the goal is the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal.


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