Congress Split on Diplomacy with Iran

In early 2021, Congress was divided about whether President Joe Biden should launch new diplomacy with Iran—and, if so, over what issues. But Iran is one issue that does not break down neatly on partisan lines.

Capitol HillThe strongest bloc, although not necessarily the majority, has urged the administration to use U.S. sanctions and pressure by America’s allies – notably in Europe and the Middle East – to push for a broader deal to supplement the 2015 nuclear deal. They call for any new deal to also cover Iran’s missiles, support for extremists, imprisonment of U.S. citizens and human rights violations. But a minority bloc of Democrats has urged the White House to quickly return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a way to then open up to negotiations on other flashpoints. The split is partly over the sequencing of diplomacy: piece-by-piece or all at once.

The different strategies also reflect the core differences between the two previous administrations. President Obama argued that negotiating a nuclear deal would achieve four things: remove the most dangerous threat from Iran; carry the heft of the international community by including the world’s five other major powers; establish a channel to communicate after more than three decades without diplomatic ties; and then open the way for broader diplomacy on the broader array of threats. President Donald Trump, who abandoned the deal in 2018 despite opposition from the other signatories (Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia), believed the United States should renegotiate one deal that included all strategic issues. He launched a “maximum pressure” campaign of punitive economic sanctions to squeeze Iran back to the negotiating table; Iran responded with a “maximum resistance” campaign and initial breaches of the nuclear deal. During the campaign, Biden pledged to renew diplomacy if both the United States and Iran returned to full compliance of the original 2015 accord.

Congress is divided over variations of those two opposite strategies. Members of Congress signed onto six different letters each outlining a separate diplomatic approach:

  • In December 2020, shortly after Biden’s election, 150 House Democrats urged the President-elect to “swiftly” reenter the JCPOA and then to pursue “follow-on negotiations” to extend the agreement.
  • In February 2021, 120 House Republicans urged Biden not to reenter the JCPOA and to maintain Trump’s “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran until a deal covering all issues is negotiated. It demands that any agreement must be ratified by the Senate.
  • In early March 2021, a bipartisan group of lawmakers – 70 House Republicans and 70 House Democrats – called on the administration to negotiate an agreement or set of agreements covering Iran’s nuclear program, ballistic missiles and support for terrorism. But this letter was signed by lawmakers who had also signed the prior two letters.
  • In late March 2021, a bipartisan group of senators – 15 Democrats and 28 Republicans – said that Biden should prioritize the release of Americans detained in Iran before negotiating with Tehran’s on its nuclear program, ballistic missiles and regional activity.
  • In early April 2021, ten House Democrats applauded the start of indirect U.S.-Iran talks in Vienna over returning to the JCPOA. 
  • In early April 2021, four leading Republican senators urged the Biden administration not to lift sanctions on Iran as an incentive to return to the JCPOA.
  • In mid April 2021, 26 Senate Democrats said that the Biden administration should pursue a "compliance for compliance" approach with Iran to return to the nuclear deal. 
  • In late April 2021, 84 House Republicans introduced the "Maximum Pressure Act" which would codify Trump era sanctions on Iran. 
  • In late April 2021, a bipartisan group of 224 lawmakers - 166 Republicans and 58 Democrats - co-sponsored a resolution condemning "violations of human rights and state-sponsored terrorism" by the Islamic Republic.
  • In early May 2021, 44 Senate Republicans urged the Biden administration to "immediately end negotiations with Iran."
  • In early June 2021, Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged President Biden to "think beyond mere restoration" of the JCPOA. 
  • In mid June 2021, 23 Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would require any agreement on Iran's nuclear program to be ratified by the Senate as a treaty. 

The following are Congressional letters to the Biden administration and resolutions since December 2020.

 

Letter from House Democrats on Dec. 23, 2020:

"Dear President-elect Biden:

"Congratulations on your election to become the next President of the United States, and we wish you success on behalf of our nation.  We particularly welcome your commitment to the restoration of American leadership and diplomacy.  With respect to Iran, we agree that diplomacy is the best path to halt and reverse Iran’s nuclear program, decrease tensions in the region, and facilitate our nation’s reincorporation into the international community.  We are united in our support for swiftly taking the necessary diplomatic steps to restore constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and return both Iran and the United States to compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a starting point for further negotiations. 

"The JCPOA, an agreement you helped champion, verifiably constrained Iran’s nuclear program until after the United States’ unilateral withdrawal.  Since 2019, Iran has changed course by increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and enriching uranium to a higher purity level, while also installing advanced centrifuges beyond the agreement’s limits.  As a result, Iran’s breakout time of one year, as estimated under the JCPOA by the U.S. intelligence community, has decreased to a few months. 

"The Trump administration’s 'maximum pressure' campaign has left Iran with an unconstrained nuclear program, failed effectively to address Iran’s other malign behavior, and greatly increased the likelihood of violent confrontation and conflict.  This incoherent and provocative policy has increased regional tension and attacks against our troops and our partners and emboldened Iranian hardliners.  As a result, the risk of potentially devastating miscalculation remains unnecessarily high.  Re-engaging multilaterally on preventing the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon and re-opening channels of communication are essential to reversing these dangerous developments.

"The Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the internationally negotiated and UN-endorsed JCPOA undermined global non-proliferation efforts, fractured U.S. relationships with key allies, diminished U.S. leadership and influence, and reduced U.S. leverage in addressing other national security issues with Iran.  Iran’s other destabilizing activities in the region, such as its support for terrorism, development of ballistic missiles, human rights violations against its own people, and holding of foreign political prisoners, including Americans, warrant strong and coordinated international diplomacy.  The JCPOA does not prevent our ability to address these destabilizing activities.  An unrestrained Iranian nuclear program would exacerbate these other threats posed by Iran and inspire a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

"We know preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy will be a top priority of your administration, and we strongly believe that the JCPOA provides a critical framework to achieve this goal effectively.  We strongly endorse your call for Iran to return to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States to rejoin the agreement, and subsequent follow-on negotiations.  We understand that returning to the agreement will require the selective lifting of some sanctions and rigorous implementation to verifiably ensure Iranian compliance. 

"Americans have seen first-hand how withdrawing from multilateral agreements and abandoning our allies jeopardizes our national security goals.  As a result, it is critical to not be discouraged by efforts to preclude diplomacy.  Reinstating our international agreements and engaging in sustained diplomacy are the best ways to achieve long-term non-proliferation and urgent national security objectives, including the prevention of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and the laying of a foundation for progress on other critical issues.  

"We look forward to working with you on these important matters."

 

Letter from House Republicans on Feb. 8, 2021:

"Dear President Joe Biden, 

"It has come to our attention that you may be considering a re-entry to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) without first pursuing any changes to the 2015 agreement. It is critically important that you do not allow history to repeat itself with a fatally flawed Iran Nuclear Deal. For a variety of reasons that include the expiring sunset clauses and a flawed verification agreement, this would be a strategic US foreign policy blunder, exponentially more dangerous than the consequences of the original misguided approach. As is, this deal is not a pathway to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. It is a blueprint for exactly how Iran can secure massive sums of money and obtain a nuclear weapon in short order. Compounding the threat, this approach turns a blind eye to Iran’s non-nuclear destabilizing activities throughout the world, such as its support for international terrorism and continued development of its ballistic missile arsenal. 

"The decision not to recertify the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2017 was in America’s best interests. Even if the United States never withdrew from the deal, poorly construed sunset provisions baked into the deal would now be upon us, meaning Iran would be well on its way to obtaining a nuclear weapon while having violated not only the spirit but the letter of the deal. 

"House Democrats claim the JCPOA 'verifiably constrained Iran’s nuclear program.' However, in violation of the deal, prior to U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, Iran tested more IR-8 and IR-6 centrifuges than permitted under the JCPOA. Iran also attempted to acquire carbon fiber that it had agreed not to obtain and stockpiled more heavy water than was allowed under the JCPOA. Even though the United States insisted there would be inspections “where necessary, when necessary” of Iran’s military sites, the Iranians made it consistently clear-- both before and after this agreement-- that it would never be permitted. What’s more, no U.S. inspectors were allowed to participate in the verification regime that is included in the JCPOA. 

"Worst of all, the verification agreement between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains a great mystery to this day and still hasn’t been submitted to Congress. 

"During testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted even he had not read the verification regime detailed in those secret side deals. President Obama said that the Iran Nuclear Agreement was not based on trust, but verification. How can the U.S. sign off on a verification regime it’s never read? 

"Some have said that returning both Iran and the US to compliance with the JCPOA must be 'the starting point for further negotiations.' That’s not an option. As the Director General of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, pointed out late last year, there are too many breaches of this agreement to simply wish everything could just fall right back into place as is. Grossi made clear that going back to square one is impossible at this point, 'because square one is no longer there.' 

"Iran is violating both the uranium enrichment levels and amount of stockpiled enriched uranium it can hold pursuant to the JCPOA in the following ways: 

  1. In May 2019, Iran stopped selling its enriched uranium and heavy water deposits. 
  2. In July 2019, Iran began enriching uranium to ~4.5%, above the 3.67% limit established in the JCPOA. 
  3. In September 2019, Iran abandoned all the commitments that were in place regarding research and development of centrifuges. 
  4. As of November 6, 2019, Iran was enriching uranium gas at Fordow. Under the JCPOA, no nuclear material was permitted at Fordow. 
  5. As of November 2020, according to the IAEA, Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium was 12-times greater than that which was permitted under the JCPOA. 
  6. In January 2021, Iran commenced the enrichment of uranium at Fordow to 20% purity. 

"With one directive from the Ayatollah, Iran was able to ramp up its nuclear program to pre-deal levels within days, demonstrating the weakness of the agreement. Neither our European partners nor any international body was able to prevent Iran from taking such steps, despite still being technically bound to the agreement. 

"With the dawn of a new administration, the United States maximum pressure campaign crippled the Iranian regime, killed Qassim Soleimani, and deterred Iran’s other malign activities in the region. House Democrats spuriously claim that withdrawal from the JCPOA eliminated 'U.S. leverage in addressing other national security issues with Iran.' The reality is that the agreement itself eliminated any leverage by negotiating away all of the sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place. The misguided approach that brought us the JCPOA siloed off the nuclear issue from all other national security threats emanating from Iran, thereby failing to address any of Iran’s other malign activities by design. This coupled with a wholesale unwinding of sanctions on Iran enabled Tehran to double down on the very nefarious behavior the negotiators of the JCPOA promised us the deal would moderate. The ayatollahs increased their sponsorship of terrorism and development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), all while still unjustly imprisoning American citizens. 

"Iran does not respect weakness. It only respects strength. Use of force and military action should always be the last possible option, but we must keep it on the table, not because we want war, but because we want to prevent it. Our other instruments of national power, such as diplomatic and economic pressure, can become greater tools in this effort when Iran understands that the military option is on the table and real. 

"In stark contrast to this progress, some Members are now urging the United States to reenter the Iran Nuclear Deal with no new conditions, requirements or other updates to the JCPOA. Iran doesn’t want the U.S. to reenter the JCPOA for their love of humanity. Iran wants this because it knows what to expect from last time around: making out like bandits with the sanctions relief, and ramping up its other non-nuclear malign activities, while still securing their nuclear weapons capability. 

"This misconceived approach also flies in the face of the changing facts on the ground in the region. The Middle East has been undergoing an advantageous and unprecedented realignment where Israel and other nations in the region are uniting and strengthening ties determined to successfully confront a common adversary in Iran. The United Arab of Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco have all chosen to strengthen its ties with Israel and peace in the region by signing the historic Abraham Accords, forging regional alliances better capable of countering Iranian influence. We must not naively ignore the developments that have taken shape since 2015 and re-enter a dated nuclear deal that does not reflect these important geopolitical shifts in the region. 

"The United States must heed key lessons learned from the 2015 negotiations with Iran. Then, like now, Iran wants the U.S. to come to the negotiating table due to the biting pain of our maximum pressure sanctions regime. The United States must not once again abandon the leverage that is bringing Iran back to the negotiating table without confronting both Iran’s nuclear and non-nuclear activities that need to be stopped. Additionally, when redlines are established for talks, the United States must either stand by those parameters or not set those redlines at all. 

"We must also be fully prepared to walk away if necessary. We urge the new administration to recall 'no deal is better than a bad deal.' If an agreement is reached, it should be of the nature to receive broad bipartisan support from Congress and be submitted to the United States Senate to be ratified as a treaty. We must all learn from the lessons of the past and ensure that any future nuclear agreement signed between the US and Iran is binding, sustainable, verifiable, and supported by our regional allies. We must not be naive, desperate or weak in how we move forward. The irony of the House Democrats’ call in their letter to you is that trying to reenter the 2015 JCPOA as is would be the “potentially devastating miscalculation.” We must approach Iran from a position of strength and not surrender for sake of domestic politics or partisan emotions. The United States must heed its lessons from the past several years, be smart, courageous, and strong, understanding that the weak and desperate adversary is this Iranian regime, not ourselves. We are ready and willing to work closely with you to achieve the goal of preventing a nuclear armed Iran and effectively inhibiting its ability to sow chaos in the region."

 

Letter from bipartisan House group on March 9, 2021: 

"As the Biden administration considers negotiations with Iran, we write to express our bipartisan and shared view that we must seek an agreement or set of agreements with Iran that are comprehensive in nature to address the full range of threats that Iran poses to the region. Though more work must be done on what the parameters of a final deal should entail, and the process by which it is reached, we have a bipartisan consensus on the following set of issues. Since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) entered into force, Iran has continued to test ballistic missile technology that could potentially be applied to nuclear capable missiles, funded and supported terrorism throughout the Middle East, and engaged in cyber attacks to disrupt the global economy. Following the decertification of the JCPOA, Iran violated the previously agreed upon restrictions on refining fissile material and stated that it was no longer bound by any of its limits.

"We call upon the administration to address these actions by Iran, de-escalate tension in these conflicts, and ensure the security of all nations in the region. America and our allies must engage Iran through a combination of diplomatic and sanction mechanisms to achieve full compliance of international obligations and a demonstrated commitment by Iran to addressing its malign behavior. Three core tenets - their nuclear program, their ballistic missile program, and their funding of terrorism - must be addressed from the outset.

"First, restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program must be extended until the regime conclusively demonstrates that it has no interest in a nuclear weapons program. Members of Congress and presidents from both parties, including President Biden, have long held that Iran must never be able to acquire nuclear weapons. The current inspection regime must be tightened to prevent the delays international inspectors have faced visiting suspect sites and Iran must resolve recently emerging concerns with its nuclear archive and the IAEA’s discovery of undeclared uranium particles.

"Second, diplomacy with Iran must limit not only the production of nuclear material but also ensure that Iran cannot develop a nuclear-capable ballistic missile. Over the past five years, Iran has defied the international community with respect to its ballistic missile program and continued its development of technology that could be used for a delivery system. This refinement and advancement of missile technology is destabilizing and increases the potential threat of a nuclear attack on nations within the region. 

"Third, Iran’s malign behavior throughout the Middle East must be addressed. It has sowed chaos in Syria and Yemen, continued to arm Hezbollah and worked to provide the terrorist group with precision guided missiles to attack Israel, backed forces in Iraq that have targeted American troops and worked to undermine the Iraqi government, taken American citizens prisoner, and committed human rights violations. These and potential future actions must be addressed and Iran must release their political prisoners. 

"As Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum, we are united in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior. There is consensus within Congress that allowing one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism to obtain nuclear weapons is an unacceptable risk. We recognize that there is not a singular diplomatic path forward on these objectives and we look forward to working with you as partners to achieve lasting peace in the region."

 

Letter from bipartisan group of senators on March 25, 2021:

"Dear President Biden,

"We write to reaffirm the long-held view of Congress and presidents from both parties that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to U.S. national security interests and our allies and partners.

"While we may have differing views on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of 2015 and the overall approach of the Trump Administration’s maximum pressure campaign, we must confront the reality that Iran has accelerated its nuclear activity in alarming ways including increasing its centrifuge research and production and enriching uranium up to 20 percent.

"We further agree that outside of its nuclear program, Iran continues to pose a threat to U.S. and international security through exporting arms, including highly accurate missiles, supporting Shia militias that target U.S. service members, and supporting terrorist organizations and other malign actors throughout the region.  We also remain concerned about Iran’s continued human rights abuses of its own citizens and the increasing size and capabilities of its ballistic and cruise missile programs. 

"Looking ahead, we strongly believe that you should use the full force of our diplomatic and economic tools in concert with our allies on the United Nations Security Council and in the region to reach an agreement that prevents Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons and meaningfully constrains its destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and its ballistic missile program. We are obviously incredibly concerned about threats to U.S. persons and assets in Iraq and elsewhere in the region as well as attacks on important U.S. security partners.

"We believe it is critical you consult with our European allies, Israel, and Gulf security partners on a path forward with Iran. The recent Abraham Accords provides hope that our partners and allies can work together to further regional cooperation.

"Finally, we believe it is critically important to prioritize the release of all American citizens unjustly detained in Iran, including Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and Emad Shargi.

"We appreciate the engagement your administration has had thus far with Congress and hope and expect this kind of transparency to continue. Iran should have no doubt about America’s policy. Democrats and Republicans may have tactical differences, but we are united on preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior. We look forward to working with you to achieve these objectives.

"Sincerely, Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jim Risch (R-ID), Chris Coons (D-DL), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Mark Warner (D-VA), John Boozman (R-AR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Gary Peters (D-MI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), John Kennedy (R-LA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Todd Young (R-IN), John Thune (R-S.D.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)"

 

Press Release from ten House Democrats on April 5, 2021

"Today, Representatives David Price (D-NC), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Peter Welch (D-VT), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Andy Levin (D-MI), Alan Lowenthal (D-NY), and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) released a statement following the announcement that Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signatories will hold diplomatic discussions in Vienna, Austria:

"We applaud the announcement that Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signatories, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Iran, along with representatives from the European Union, will convene to discuss next steps for the historic agreement that constrained verifiably Iran’s nuclear program.

"To date, the JCPOA implemented the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever placed on a country as a result of nuclear negotiations. Taking the diplomatic steps necessary to return both Iran and the U.S. to compliance with the agreement is critical to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, achieving urgent non-proliferation objectives, and laying the foundation for further negotiations on additional important issues.

"We are encouraged by the resumption of talks and urge the Biden administration to engage in the diplomatic efforts needed to restore constraints on Iran’s nuclear program urgently and rejoin this international agreement.”

 

Letter from four Senate Republicans on April 6, 2021

"Dear Mr. President:

"We are deeply troubled by recent news reports that the United States may soon remove sanctions on Iran in order to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In light of today’s talks in Vienna, and any future negotiations that may follow, we urge you to adhere to the principles outlined in the February 26, 2021, letter sent to you by five Republican Senate ranking members.

"The United States must not relinquish its leverage over the Iranian regime just to return to the JCPOA, a severely flawed agreement that undermines our national security interests due to its arbitrary sunsets and limited scope. Unfortunately, recent comments from Administration officials suggest that is exactly what the U.S. intends to offer Tehran. An April 2 New York Times article titled “U.S. and Iran Agree to Indirect Talks on Returning to Nuclear Deal” quotes an Administration official saying that the U.S. “would not seek to retain some sanctions for leverage,” because “the previous ‘maximum pressure’ campaign waged against Iran by the Trump administration had failed.”

"This sentiment is starkly similar to comments by the U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley. During a March 17, 2021, interview with BBC Persian, a foreign news outlet that is notoriously sympathetic to the Iranian regime, Mr. Malley disparaged current U.S. sanctions on Iran, saying:

"The maximum pressure campaign has failed. It was a failure – a predicted failure. It hasn’t made life any better for the Iranian people. It hasn’t made any life better for the U.S. in the region. And it hasn’t brought us any closer to this better deal that President Trump spoke about. It’s been bad for the U.S., for Iran, and for the region. 

"The sanctions that Mr. Malley criticized are not new. They include sanctions that Democrat and Republican administrations have implemented to punish the Iranian regime for its support for terrorism, nuclear enrichment program, and ballistic missile program. The current sanctions in place provide your Administration with an enormous amount of leverage over the Iranian regime, and they should be used as a tool to address all aspects of Iran’s destabilizing behavior.

"Senior administration officials have committed to Congress that the Biden Administration plans to take a new approach separate from the Obama Administration with respect to policy towards Iran. We hope to work with you on a path forward that prevents Iran from possessing nuclear weapons capabilities, addresses support for terrorism, holds the regime accountable for its egregious human rights violations, and ends its hostage-taking of American citizens. But we oppose any attempt to return to the failed JCPOA, or any deal that offers one-sided concessions to the Iranian regime while it continues to undermine the security of the United States and our allies and partners.

"Returning to the JCPOA – which means granting Iran significant sanctions relief in exchange for nuclear limitations that expire in just four years – is not a viable strategy. We urge your Administration to reset its approach immediately. Members of Congress rejected the JCPOA on a bipartisan basis in 2015. Returning to the JCPOA is not a recipe for a sustainable Iran policy, and will not protect U.S. national security interests.

"Sincerely, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Todd Young (R-IN)"

 

Letter from 26 Senate Democrats on April 14, 2021

"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, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), 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)."

 

Official summary of Maximum Pressure Act co-sponsored by 84 House Republicans on April 22, 2021:

"The Maximum Pressure Act is the toughest sanctions bill on Iran ever proposed by Congress and codifies into law the Trump administration’s successful maximum pressure campaign on Iran. The bill also implements a number of ideas with regards to Iran sanctions first recommended in the Republican Study Committee’s National Security Strategy report. It also legislatively implements the official position of the RSC’s Steering Committee with regards to Iran issued on March 5th, 2021 which pledged to work to maintain all sanctions on Iran until Iran meets the 12 demands laid out by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in May 2018. Furthermore, the bill would restrict the ability of the President to abuse waiver and license authorities to lift sanctions on Iran by placing sunsets on such authorities, and provide for expanded congressional review with respect to lifting sanctions on Iran."

 

H. Res. 118 co-sponsored by 224 lawmakers on April 26, 2021:

"Expressing support for the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular, and nonnuclear Republic of Iran and condemning violations of human rights and state-sponsored terrorism by the Iranian Government.

"Whereas beginning in 2017, and continuing for several months after protests erupted in more than 100 cities, the Iranian regime suppressed such protests with repressive forces that resulted in at least 25 deaths and 4,000 arrests, including decorated wrestling champion Navid Afkari, who was later executed in September 2020 amidst international outrage;

    "Whereas, on November 15, 2019, popular protests against the Iranian regime began and rapidly spread to at least 100 cities throughout the country, and reports indicate that Iranian security forces used lethal force and about 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest, and thousands more were detained during these protests;

      "Whereas, in the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 752, 'Supporting the rights of the people of Iran to free expression, condemning the Iranian regime for its crackdown on legitimate protests, and for other purposes.';

        "Whereas House Resolution 752 urges the Administration to work to convene emergency sessions of the United Nations Security Council and to work with United States partners and allies to condemn the ongoing human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian regime and establish a mechanism by which the United Nations Security Council can monitor such violations;

          "Whereas according to a September 2, 2020, Amnesty International report, detained protesters were subjected to “widespread torture including beatings, floggings, electric shocks, stress positions, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence, forced administration of chemical substances, and deprivation of medical care”;

            "Whereas, from January 11 to 13, 2020, protesters gathered across Iran chanting against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane killing 176 civilians, and Iranian authorities deployed tear gas and live ammunition against the protesters;

              "Whereas the Iranian regime has routinely violated the human rights of Iranian citizens, including by implementing ongoing, systematic, and serious restrictions of freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of opinion and expression, including the continuing closures of media outlets, arrests of journalists, and the censorship of expression in online forums such as blogs and websites;

                "Whereas the Iranian regime has killed or arrested more than 860 journalists since 1979;

                  "Whereas the Iranian regime has lured three political activists to Iran’s neighboring countries, where they were abducted and transferred to Iran, of which one, Ruhollah Zam, was executed on December 12, 2020;

                    "Whereas the Iranian regime has arbitrarily and brutally suppressed ethnic minorities, including Iranian Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs, as well as religious minorities such as Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and even Sunni Muslims and deprived them of their basic human rights, and has in many cases executed them;

                      "Whereas, in the 115th Congress, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4744 calling on the United States to 'condemn Iranian human rights abuses against dissidents, including the massacre in 1988 and the suppression of political demonstrations in 1999, 2009, and 2017, and pressure the Government of Iran to provide family members detailed information that they were denied about the final resting places of any missing victims of such abuses';

                        "Whereas the killings were carried out on the orders of a judge, an official from the Ministry of Intelligence, and a state prosecutor, known to the prisoners as “Death Commissions”, which were formed on July 19, 1988, and undertook proceedings in a manner designed to eliminate the regime’s opponents;

                          "Whereas Amnesty International described as a 'momentous breakthrough' marking a “turning point” the September 3, 2020, communication by seven United Nations human rights experts, regarding information that 'between July and September 1988, the Iranian authorities forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed thousands of imprisoned political dissidents affiliated with political opposition groups in 32 cities in secret and discarded their bodies, mostly in unmarked mass graves', as United Nations experts warned that 'the situation may amount to crimes against humanity';

                            "Whereas the United Nations calls on the international community to take action to investigate the cases through the establishment of an international investigation;

                              "Whereas the United States should be involved in any establishment of an international investigation into the 1988 extrajudicial killings of Iranian dissidents;

                                "Whereas senior Iranian Government, military, judicial, and security officials have for decades ordered or committed egregious human rights violations and acts of terror;

                                  "Whereas the Iranian people have been deprived of their fundamental freedoms for which reason they rejected monarchic dictatorship and are opposing religious tyranny;

                                    "Whereas, on June 30, 2018, tens of thousands of people gathered in Paris at the Free Iran gathering where they supported advocates for a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear Republic of Iran, and showed support for the opposition leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi’s 10-point plan for the future of Iran, which calls for the universal right to vote, free elections, and a market economy, and advocates gender, religious, and ethnic equality, a foreign policy based on peaceful coexistence, and a nonnuclear Iran;

                                      "Whereas, on July 2, 2018, the Belgian Federal Prosecutor’s Office announced it had foiled a terrorist plot against the “Free Iran 2018–the Alternative” gathering held on June 30, 2018, in support of the Iranian people’s struggle for freedom;

                                        "Whereas several prominent bipartisan former United States Government officials, several retired United States generals, congressional staff, and thousands of American citizens participated in that gathering;

                                          "Whereas Assadollah Assadi, a senior Iranian diplomat based in the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, Austria, was arrested in Germany in connection with the planned terror plot in Paris;

                                            "Whereas the Iranian diplomat has been charged in Belgium in connection with the Paris terror plot and in Germany with 'activity as a foreign agent and conspiracy to commit murder';

                                              "Whereas, on February 4, 2021, a court in Belgium sentenced Iran’s diplomat Assadollah Assadi to the maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment for his role in planning to plant a bomb at the Free Iran gathering in 2018, and his 3 accomplices were given jail terms of 15 to 18 years and stripped of their Belgian citizenship;

                                                "Whereas Assadi took an Iranian-made bomb from Iran to Europe on a commercial flight, and delivered it to his accomplices with the aim of causing mass casualties at the Free Iran gathering in Paris in 2018;

                                                  "Whereas the Belgium court found 'that the four defendants are part of a larger terrorist group within a specific Iranian intelligence service. This appears from the sums of money paid to the defendants, the way information was gathered, the meetings in Iran, the use of diplomatic status, and the making and testing of the explosive device in Iran itself.';

                                                    "Whereas, on July 10, 2018, a senior Department of State official said, 'Iran uses embassies as cover to plot terrorist attacks', and that 'The most recent example is the plot that the Belgians foiled, and we had an Iranian diplomat out of the Austrian Embassy as part of the plot to bomb a meeting of Iranian opposition leaders in Paris.';

                                                      "Whereas, in January 2019, the European Union (EU) included the Internal Security Division of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and two of its officials on the EU terror list in connection with the Paris bomb plot;

                                                        "Whereas according to the Select Iran-Sponsored Operational Activity in Europe, released by the Department of State on July 5, 2018, “Two Iranian operatives were arrested on charges of terrorism by Albanian authorities”, for a bomb plot against the March 2018 New Year gathering of thousands of Iranian opposition members in Tirana;

                                                          "Whereas, in December 2018, the Government of Albania expelled Iran’s Ambassador, Gholamhossein Mohammadnia, and MOIS station chief in Albania, Mostafa Roudaki, for planning terrorist activities against Iranian dissidents and members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK);

                                                            "Whereas, in January 2020, the Government of Albania expelled two other Iranian diplomats also for planning terrorist activities against the MEK;

                                                              "Whereas the expulsion of the Iranian Ambassador by the Government of Albania is a positive and important step, which sends the right message that no Iranian embassies should be used for plotting terror and conducting spying activities against dissidents;

                                                                "Whereas Iran’s malign activities in the Balkans, specifically its presence and activities in Albania, pose a serious threat to United States national security interests;

                                                                  "Whereas the Department of State has urged 'all nations to be vigilant about Iran using embassies as diplomatic cover to plot terrorist attacks'; and

                                                                    "Whereas the United States Government arrested two Iranian nationals in August 2018 who had acted on behalf of the MOIS to conduct covert surveillance in the United States against officials of the National Council of Resistance of Iran for a target package, which, according to the Department of Justice Federal complaint, may include 'apprehension, recruitment, cyber exploitation, or capture/kill operations', and that they pleaded guilty and were sentenced to imprisonment: Now, therefore, be it

                                                                      "Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

                                                                      "(1) condemns past and present Iranian state-sponsored terrorist attacks against United States citizens and officials, as well as Iranian dissidents, including the Iranian regime’s terror plot against the “Free Iran 2018–the Alternative” gathering in Paris;

                                                                      "(2) calls on relevant United States Government agencies to work with European allies, including those in the Balkans where Iran has expanded its presence, to hold Iran accountable for breaching diplomatic privileges, and to call on nations to prevent the malign activities of the Iranian regime’s diplomatic missions, with the goal of closing them down, including the Iranian Embassy in Albania;

                                                                      "(3) stands with the people of Iran who are continuing to hold legitimate and peaceful protests against an oppressive and corrupt regime; and

                                                                      "(4) recognizes the rights of the Iranian people and their struggle to establish a democratic, secular, and nonnuclear Republic of Iran."

                                                                       

                                                                      Letter from 44 Senate Republicans on May 12, 2021

                                                                      "Dear Mr. President: 

                                                                      "We write with regard to the ongoing rocket attacks against Israel by the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. Over the past couple days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel. They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel’s capital Jerusalem. This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel, the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran. This is especially important as Iran is supporting terrorist activity against the United States’ closest ally in the region, Israel. 

                                                                      "As you know, Palestinian terrorist groups launched more than 1,000 rockets targeting Israel over the last few days alone. This includes the first rockets aimed at Jerusalem since 2014. While the United States and countries around the world condemned these rocket attacks, Iran resoundingly supports this aggression.  Shortly after the attacks began, and as they continued, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted that Palestinians should unite to “use the tools of their disposal” to attack Israel, which he recently called not a nation, but a “terrorist garrison.” Even the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, who currently is supervising Iran’s negotiating team in Vienna, called Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh to express Iran’s support for the group’s actions.   

                                                                      "The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organization in 1997 and as such, is prohibited from providing any funds to Hamas. Iran, however, is a longtime financial and material supporter of Hamas. The United States engaging in active negotiations with Iran and potentially providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief will no doubt contribute to Iran’s support of Hamas and other terrorist organizations who attack Americans and our allies. We call on you to immediately end negotiations with Iran, and make clear that sanctions relief will not be provided. Doing so would demonstrate a firm commitment to our closest ally in the region and to our own security interests. 

                                                                      "The United States must not do anything to enrich Israel’s enemies, such as by offering sanctions relief to a regime that seeks to destroy Israel. As a longtime friend of the Jewish state, we also urge you to unequivocally support Israel’s right to defend itself against any and all terrorist attacks. 

                                                                      "Respectfully,

                                                                      "Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Todd Young (R-IN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), Josh Hawley (R-MO), John Barrasso (R-WY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike  Braun (R-IN), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Ben  Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), John Thune (R-SD), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Ted  Cruz (R-TX), John Hoeven (R-ND), John Kennedy (R-LA), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL),  Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Mike  Lee (R-UT), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bill  Cassidy (R-LA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa  Murkowski (R-AK), and Rob Portman (R-OH)."

                                                                       

                                                                      Op-ed by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on June 3

                                                                      "In more than 25 years in Congress, we have consistently supported diplomacy backed by sanctions, with the objective of ending Iran’s dangerous nuclear plans and curbing its regional aggression. That is why we believe there is an opportunity for President Biden to think beyond the mere restoration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal that the Obama administration, its European partners, China and Russia reached with Iran in 2015... We must begin by confronting the reality that, following the Trump administration’s withdrawal and Iran’s escalatory nuclear advancements, the deal itself is all but broken. Even though we opposed the original deal, we warned in 2018 that the world needed a diplomatic path to a solution, and that withdrawal without a diplomatic plan would lead to a more dangerous Iran.

                                                                      "And indeed, Iran has raised the stakes. In 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran blocked inspectors, subsequently enriched uranium up to 60 percent, installed new advanced centrifuges and increased its stockpile of enriched uranium. So while the U.S. intelligence community assesses that 'Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities,' Iran has focused on escalating tensions to build a stronger negotiating position. The same intelligence community report also noted that Iran and its allies 'continue to plot terrorist attacks against U.S. persons and interests' while conducting destabilizing online influence operations and building up the region’s largest arsenal of ballistic missiles.

                                                                      "Even during the short time in which all parties were implementing the JCPOA, Iran continued transferring increasingly sophisticated arms to Hezbollah, bolstering the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and exploiting Houthi grievances in Yemen, where it has established growing influence.

                                                                      "All this poses a fundamental question: Why should we limit our diplomatic efforts to controlling Iran’s nuclear program? Instead, we should be seeking an approach that meaningfully constrains this behavior and the leverage Iran continues to derive from it.

                                                                      "If we are seeking more from Iran, we should be willing to give more sanctions relief in return. The United States and the international community should capitalize on potential new regional diplomatic engagement, and encourage broader negotiations to curb malign Iranian influence in the region."

                                                                       

                                                                      Resolution by 23 Senate Republicans on June 11

                                                                      "SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. 

                                                                      "This Act may be cited as the ‘'Iran Nuclear Treaty Act’'

                                                                      "SEC. 2. AGREEMENTS RELATED TO NUCLEAR PROGRAM OF IRAN DEEMED TREATIES SUBJECT TO ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE

                                                                      "(a) TREATY SUBJECT TO ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE.—Notwithstanding any other provision of  law, any agreement reached by the President with Iran relating to the nuclear program of Iran is deemed to be a treaty that is subject to the requirements of article II, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States requiring that the treaty is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, with two-thirds of Senators concurring.

                                                                      "b) LIMITATION ON SANCTIONS RELIEF.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the President may not waive, suspend, reduce, provide relief from, or otherwise limit the application of sanctions under any other provision of law or refrain from applying any such sanctions pursuant to an agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran that includes the United States, commits the United States to take action, or pursuant to which the United States commits or otherwise agrees to take action, regardless of the form it takes, whether a political commitment or otherwise, and regardless of whether it is legally binding or not, including any joint comprehensive plan of action entered into or made between Iran and any other parties, and any additional materials related thereto, including annexes, appendices, codicils, side agreements, implementing materials, documents, and guidance, technical or other understandings, and any related agreements, whether entered into or implemented prior to the agreement or to be entered into or implemented in the future, unless the agreement is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate as a treaty and receives the concurrence of two-thirds of Senators.

                                                                      "Sens. Johnson (R-Wis), Risch (R-Idaho) Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Cruz (R-Texas), Rubio (R-Fla.), Braun (R-Ind.), Cotton (R-Ark.), Crapo (R-Idaho), Hoeven (R-N.D.), Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Lee (R-Utah), Lummis (R-Wyo.), Moran (R-Kan.), Sasse (R-Neb.), Scott (R-Fla.), Scott (R-S.C.), Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tillis (R-N.C.), Young (R-Ind.), Boozman (R-Ark.), Marshall (R-Kan.), Ernst (R-Iowa), and Daines (R-Mont.)."

                                                                       

                                                                      Updated