On December 14, a bipartisan group of over 50 American national security leaders issued a statement urging the incoming Biden Administration to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) swiftly and without preconditions. “The immediate U.S. commitment to rejoin the JCPOA will require Iran to return to full compliance, prevent it from a nuclear weapon, and reduce the risk of war. With the JCPOA reinvigorated by Iran and the U.S., the hard work can begin on regional arms limitations and provide a foundation from which to resolve regional differences and explore regional cooperation,” the authors wrote.
The signers include former: Secretaries of Defense, William Perry and Chuck Hagel; Acting Secretary of State, Tom Shannon; Director of Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan; Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command, General (ret.) Chuck Boyd; Acting Under Secretaries of State Thomas Pickering and Frank Wisner; U.S. Senators, Tom Daschle and Tim Wirth; U.S. Representatives, Lee Hamilton and David Dreier; U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills; and Ambassadors, Anne Patterson, Ryan Crocker, Winston Lord, and Daniel Kurtzer. The following is the full statement with a list of signatories.
U.S. Early Re-entry to the JCPOA would:
- Reverse Iran’s nuclear program and prevent a nuclear weapon—a top national security objective. The 2018 U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and the restoration of sanctions permitted a previously-compliant Iran to exceed JCPOA limits on enrichment and prohibited R&D work on centrifuges. Iran’s stock of enriched uranium is now 12 times that permitted by the JCPOA. Iran’s full compliance with the JCPOA would return the breakout time for a weapon to a year, strengthening the U.S. position on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
- Renew the coalition of U.S., Europe, Russia, and China. These JCPOA states are essential for reducing Iran’s nuclear threat and the dangers posed by Iran’s proxies and ballistic missiles. The conventional arms race, including ballistic and cruise missiles and drones, raises tensions and instability in the region and undermines deterrence. Outside and regional powers must work together to limit conventional weapons proliferation. Iran will come to the table on ballistic missiles only if these issues are discussed in a regional forum.
- Show determination to reduce the risk of conflict and restore official communications with Iran. Increased tensions in the region have brought us close to war. Israel, the Gulf States, and U.S. forces are sitting on a powder keg. The absence of a channel of U.S.-Iranian communications adds to the danger. A U.S.-Iran military conflict before the Inauguration would inflame the region and likely deal a fatal blow to the JCPOA. The recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist heightens the risk of escalation. Regional and U.S. leaders should move quickly diplomatically to de-escalate and preserve the option of returning to the JCPOA. Another endless war would be calamitous for the U.S., the region, and nuclear non-proliferation.
- Assure allies and friends of U.S. backing on security and political objectives, preference for diplomacy, and committed opposition to Iran’s support for terrorist proxies and violence against neighbors. France, Germany, and the UK are critical partners in a U.S. JCPOA re-entry. Europe, Russia, and China will be essential participants in shaping a JCPOA follow- on agreement. The U.S. must also assure allies and friends of its support for confronting Iran’s promotion of violence in the region. Re-entry will require security assurances to Israel and our Arab friends.
Re-entry to the JCPOA is Doable and Vital to U.S. Security.
- The Iranian government has stated “if all sides return to compliance the Islamic Republic of Iran will also return to its previous commitments.” Iran remains in the JCPOA and other members would welcome U.S. re-entry. Iran is now ready to resume diplomacy and return to full compliance. To get down to its mandated stock of low enriched uranium of 300 KG, Iran will have to down blend or ship out its excess LEU under IAEA monitoring. Iran has raised the issue of compensation for damages caused by U.S. maximum pressure but has not made it a pre-condition for returning to full compliance. Iran’s conservative parliament just approved a new law, opposed by President Rouhani, which seeks to pressure the Biden Administration to lift sanctions early. How Iran’s government addresses this law is still unclear and could complicate efforts for an early and full Iranian-U.S. re-entry to the JCPOA.
- President-elect Biden has said “if Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.” There are no U.S. or international legal obstacles to full U.S. re-entry. The President can at any time issue waivers, revoke Executive Orders, issue OFAC licenses, and take the implementation steps required to return the U.S. to compliance.
- Agreement on the timing and steps of Iran’s return to full compliance will be essential to block a nuclear weapon. The President on day one could announce his intention to re-enter the agreement, suggesting a step-by-step process for full sanctions relief that is synchronized with Iran’s return to full compliance by a set date and verified by the IAEA.
- As a full member of the JCPOA and its Commission, the U.S. will have greater influence on the shape of a follow-on agreement. As trust is restored, the U.S. will be better positioned to ensure in follow-on negotiations that Iran will be prevented from a nuclear weapon.
- The new Administration should restore a U.S. commitment to humanitarian issues and human rights by removing all obstacles to Iran’s import of medicines, medical equipment, and food and work to resolve longstanding prisoner issues.
- The incoming Administration will have a small window of opportunity to restore nuclear limits on Iran. This should be accomplished well before Iran’s June elections and the specter of a more conservative Iranian President. President-elect Biden faces an unparalleled overload of priorities, foreign and domestic. An immediate commitment to rejoin the JCPOA belongs in the top tier.
CONCLUSION: The immediate U.S. commitment to rejoin the JCPOA will require Iran to return to full compliance, prevent it from a nuclear weapon, and reduce the risk of war. With the JCPOA reinvigorated by Iran and the U.S., the hard work can begin on regional arms limitations and provide a foundation from which to resolve regional differences and explore regional cooperation.
Ambassador (ret.) Morton Abramowitz, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and Ambassador to Thailand and Turkey
Graham Allison, Assistant Secretary of Defense
Brigadier General (ret.) Ricardo Aponte, U.S. Air Force and Director of Innovation and Experimentation, U.S. Southern Command
Emma Belcher, President of the Ploughshares Fund
Ambassador (ret.) Barbara K. Bodine, Ambassador to Yemen
General (ret.) Chuck Boyd, U.S. Air Force and Deputy Commander in Chief, U.S. European Command
John Brennan, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Ambassador (ret.) James F. Collins, Ambassador at Large for the New Independent States and Ambassador to the Russian Federation
Chester A. Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Ambassador (ret.) Ryan Crocker, Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon
Ambassador (ret.) James B. Cunningham, Ambassador to Israel and Afghanistan and Acting Ambassador to the United Nations
Tom Daschle, U.S. Senate and Senate Majority Leader
Ambassador (ret.) James Dobbins, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
David Dreier, U.S. House of Representatives and Chairman of the House Committee on Rules
Robert Einhorn, Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation and the Secretary of State’s Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control
Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin (ret.), U.S. Marine Corps and Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
Vice Admiral Kevin P. Green (ret.), U.S. Navy and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Plans, Policy and Operations
Chuck Hagel, U.S. Senator and Secretary of Defense
Morton H. Halperin, Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State
Lee H. Hamilton, U.S. House of Representatives, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Vice Chair of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Ambassador (ret.) William C. Harrop, Ambassador to Israel and Inspector General of the U.S. Department of State
Gary Hart, U.S. Senate and U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland
Stephen B. Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Ambassador (ret.) Carla A. Hills, U.S. Trade Representative
Lieutenant General Arlen D. Jameson (ret.), U.S. Air Force and Deputy Commander, U.S. Strategic Command
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association
Ambassador (ret.) Daniel Kurtzer, Ambassador to Israel and Egypt
Ellen Laipson, Vice Chair of the National Intelligence Council and President Emeritus of the Stimson Center
Ambassador (ret.) John Limbert, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran
Ambassador (ret.) Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ambassador to China, and Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State
Ambassador (ret.) William H. Luers, Ambassador to Czechoslovakia and Venezuela
Jessica T. Mathews, Director of the Office of Global Issues of the National Security Council
Steve Mull, Acting Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Ambassador to Poland and Lithuania
Ambassador (ret.) Richard W. Murphy, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
Joseph Nye, Assistant Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council
Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President of The Quincy Institute
Ambassador (ret.) Anne Patterson, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and Ambassador to Egypt and Pakistan
William Perry, Secretary of Defense
Ambassador (ret.) Thomas Pickering, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and Ambassador to the United Nations, Israel, Russia, India, El Salvador, Nigeria, and Jordan.
Paul R. Pillar, National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia
Ambassador (ret.) J. Stapleton Roy, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and Ambassador to China, Indonesia, and Singapore
Barnett R. Rubin, Senior Adviser to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Ambassador (ret.) Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., Acting Secretary of State, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Ambassador to Brazil
Gary Sick, Director for Iran and the Persian Gulf of the National Security Council
Jim Slattery, U.S. House of Representatives
Strobe Talbot, Deputy Secretary of State
Mark Udall, U.S. Senate
Ambassador (ret.) Edward S. Walker, Jr., Ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates
James Walsh, Research Associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program
Timothy E. Wirth, U.S. Senate
Ambassador (ret.) Frank Wisner, Under Secretary of State for International Security Affairs, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Ambassador to India, Egypt, the Philippines, and Zambia