Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 U.S. presidential election could have profound economic, diplomatic and security repercussions for the Islamic Republic. During the campaign, he repeatedly pledged to reenter the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama negotiated in 2015 and President Trump abandoned in 2018, although he suggested it needed to be updated and broadened. “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,” Biden wrote in an op-ed in September 2020. “With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern.”
Biden said that his administration would continue sanctions on Iranian state institutions and high-level officials for human rights abuses, support for terrorism, and developing ballistic missiles. But he also wanted to avoid undercutting Iran’s ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are already humanitarian exceptions in place for sanctions, but in practice, most governments and organizations are too concerned about running afoul of U.S. sanctions to offer assistance,” the former vice president acknowledged in April 2020.
Biden proposed a half dozen humanitarian initiatives, such as issuing licenses to pharmaceutical and medical suppliers to protect the flow of humanitarian goods. “Whatever our many, many disagreements with the Iranian government, it’s the right and the humane thing to do.” The following are Biden remarks by topic and an excerpt from the 2020 Democratic Party Platform on Iran.
As President (2021-)
Nuclear Program and New Diplomacy
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022: "While the United States is prepared for a mutual return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action if Iran steps up to its obligations, the United States is clear: We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
"I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome. The nonproliferation regime is one of the greatest successes of this institution. We cannot let the world now slide backwards, nor can we turn a blind eye to the erosion of human rights."
Op-ed in The Washington Post on July 9, 2022: "After my predecessor reneged on a nuclear deal that was working, Iran had passed a law mandating the rapid acceleration of its nuclear program. Then, when the last administration sought to condemn Iran for this action in the U.N. Security Council, the United States found itself isolated and alone."
"With respect to Iran, we reunited with allies and partners in Europe and around the world to reverse our isolation; now it is Iran that is isolated until it returns to the nuclear deal my predecessor abandoned with no plan for what might replace it. Last month, more than 30 countries joined us to condemn Iran’s lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency on its past nuclear activities. My administration will continue to increase diplomatic and economic pressure until Iran is ready to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, as I remain prepared to do."
Press conference in the Rose Garden on April 16, 2021: "We do not support and do not think it’s at all helpful that Iran is saying it’s going to move to enrich to 60 percent. It is contrary to the agreement. We are, though, nonetheless pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in discussions, indirect discussions with us and with our partners on how we move forward and what is needed to allow us to move back into the [JCPOA], and so that we are a part of it again — that we should have never gotten out of, in my view — without us making concessions that we’re just not willing to make. And so the discussions are underway. I think it’s premature to make a judgement as to what the outcome will be, but we’re still talking."
Remarks at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, 2021: “The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us. We need transparency and communication to minimize the risk of strategic misunderstanding or mistakes… That’s why we have said we're prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program. We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we're going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed.”
Interview with CBS News on Feb. 7, 2021
NORAH O'DONNELL: Will the U.S. lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?
PRESIDENT BIDEN: No.
NORAH O'DONNELL: They have to stop enriching uranium first?
PRESIDENT BIDEN: *Nodding yes*
After the interview, a senior official clarified Biden's remarks. “They have to stop enriching beyond the limits of the JCPOA,” the official told Reuters. “There is nothing changed in the U.S. position. The United States wants Iran to come back into (compliance with) its JCPOA commitments and if does, the United States will do the same.”
Press conference on Jan. 19, 2022: “It's not time to give up. There is some progress being made. The P5+1 is on the same page. But it remains to be seen.”
In remarks on March 24, 2023: “And to make no mistake: The United States does not — does not, I emphasize — seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people.”
Question: Mr. President, Iran keeps targeting Americans. Does there need to be a higher cost, sir?
Biden: We are not going to stop.
Remarks at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's 140th Commencement Exercises on May 19, 2021: “Based alongside the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, you had to face down harassment of Iranian fast-attack boats in recent weeks. And in recent weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui had to fire 30 warning shots to deter such irresponsible and unsafe maneuvers in the region.”
In remarks at a White House Nowruz reception on March 20, 2023: “Good afternoon, everyone. As we celebrate new beginnings, Jill and I, along with Kamala and Doug, are honored to host a new national tradition — and I say a “new national tradition” — the first Nowruz reception on this scale ever held in the White House. And you’re evidence of it.”
“It’s a celebration that’s been a millennium in the making, observed by millions of people around the world this very day, and the roots in ancient Persia. You know, one that was carried on by people and in the gardens of Shiraz, the mountains of Kabul and Erbil, in the shores of Baku and beyond, most of which I’ve got a chance to visit — but I got to — get to come home too. And one that has always been honored anew by diverse diaspora in communities across the United States, including all of you.
“You know, folks, it’s the start of a new year that reminds us of hope and what that lies ahead from these darkest times so many have been through.
“And we know that this year’s holiday comes at a difficult time for many families. Hope where is needed more than ever is going to be coming.
“Hope for families in Turkey and Syria, who are grieving for the loss of far too many loved ones from that devastating earthquake.
“Hope for people in Afghanistan who continue to struggle with a grave humanitarian crisis.
“Hope for women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Isn’t it amazing how young your daughters or granddaughters are — how they’re moved by what they see on television? It’s amazing. Thank God it’s hard for them to believe. It’s hard for them to believe.
“The United States stands with those brave women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction and, I have to emphasize, their courage — their genuine courage.
“And together with our partners, we’re going to continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people.
“I also want to recognize two proud Iranian-Americans with us today who know better than anyone the power of holding on to hope and the possibility of a new day. Jason — where’s Jason? He’s back there. And Yeganeh. And there’s — and Rezaian.
“Look, Jason… you were both unjustly detained in Iran. Jason for 544 days. We worked very hard to bring him home when I was Vice President. Thank you for — both for being here today.
“And to all those who are unjustly detained in Iran or anywhere in the world, know that you are not forgotten, and we will not stop trying to get you home.
“Returning wrongfully detained and people held hostage — and particularly Americans and their families — is a top priority for this administration.”
“And we’ll continue our work to bring home all Americans held hostage or unjustly detained.
“You know, in the 14th century, the Persian — the Persian poet Hasez [sic] — Hafiz — excuse me — said: ‘Out of the great need, we are holding hands and climbing.’ ‘Out of the great need, we are holding hands and climbing.’
“All around the world, wherever we need — the need is great, this holiday offers a moment to reach out — reach out and, together, to begin to climb toward a new day, one full of hope and new possibilities.
“I thank all of you. You’ve continued to spread the hope for this holiday across every part our own country.
“We see it in the homemade pastries and new presents exchanged.
“We hear it in the sound of children banging pots and in the laughs of families who’ve come together.
“And we feel it in the communities that gather to make this celebration such a joyous part of American culture, one that reflects the soul of who we are as a nation.
“You know, it’s a soul that we also see reflected at this Haft-Sin and I’m tempted to walk over. Anyway.
“The sprouts that remind us, though, that we can always begin anew. The vinegar that symbolizes the power of tolerance. The apple that inspires us to believe in a more beautiful and healthy future.
“And even the table itself — a place where we gather in unity. A place where young and old come together to honor the past and the present. A place where we may disagree and debate but we always — always there’s a seat for everyone.
“That’s America at our best: resilient, tolerant, courageous, hopeful, diverse. That’s who we are.
“We’re the only nation in the world built on an idea. Every other nation — that’s not hyperbole. Every other nation is based on things like geography, ethnicity, religion. But we’re the only nation built on an idea that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, et cetera.
“We’ve never fully lived up to it, but we’ve never, ever walked away from it. And that’s due in large part to the waves of immigrant families who have come from every part of the world to push our nation ever forward, renewing and reinvigorating our nation generation after generation after generation.
“We see that today in this very room.
“Maybe you or your parents or grandparents came to America, uncertain of what life would bring but certain you and your children and grandchildren would be able to do anything you wanted to do here, try it.
“You’ve grown up seeing your children forged by their heritage but also the kinds of friendships found every day in American things — soccer practice, band practice — just those special times, and all the things that make an extraordinary life in our generation — in our great nation.
“And thanks to all of you for enriching the soul of this nation. Thank you for adapting old traditions anew to tell the ongoing story of America, one firmly stamped by your experiences.
“Let me close with this. Few periods have been more challenging to our world than the one we’re going through right now. And we face an inflection point. I had a professor who said, ‘An inflection point is when you’re going down the highway at 65 miles an hour and you radically turn five degrees to the right. You can never get back on the course you were on.’
“Well, recent decisions — points — the decisions we make today are going to determine the course of our future for the next several decades to come.
“Now more than ever, we need you — we need you — engaged in the work of our time to help fulfill the promise of this nation — the same promise of opportunity, equality that brought you and your families here in the first place.
“That’s what I hope for this very day: to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community, to keep the faith in our country.
“’Out of a great need, we’re all holding hands and climbing.’
“We have to keep climbing.
“I’ve never been more optimistic in my life about the future of this country. And I mean that sincerely.
“Let’s remember who in God’s name we are. We are the United States of America. And there is nothing — I mean this from the bottom of my heart: There is nothing — nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together.
“Happy Nowruz to all of you and your families. And may God bless you all.”
“Folks, you know, the Persian culture is amazing. As a student of the Persian culture — not a practitioner, but a student — it’s incredible where the world is, where the world wouldn’t have been without — without the culture. I really mean it.
“If you’ll excuse me for quoting a non-Persian poet that relates to today — because I know the hope in all your hearts, your desire — I mean, it’s real. You can feel it in this room, just the looks on your faces, those of you who still have folks back there.
“Well, other people who have been persecuted as well have had poets that talk about their future. One of my favorite poets happens to be an Irishman named Seamus Heaney, and Heaney wrote a poem called ‘The Cure at Troy.’ And there’s a stanza in the poem that I think reflects what all of you are thinking, should be thinking, and will succeed in doing. He said,
“’History [teaches us not to] hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
[That] longed-for tidal wave
Of justice [rises] up,
And hope and history rhyme.’
“It’s my sincere hope we’re doing everything in our power — everything in our power to make that happen. It’s an incredible, incredible culture. Incredible people.
“And thank you for being here. Thank you for making this day known to all Americans, because everybody watched this.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you’ve done.”
“You’re amazing! Remember who you are.”
In an additional statement on March 20, 2023: “Today, Jill and I send our best wishes to everyone celebrating Nowruz across the United States and around the world—from the Middle East, to Central and South Asia, to the Caucasus, to Europe.
“The Nowruz holiday brings loved ones together around the Haft-Sin table to reflect on the year that has passed and renew hope for the year ahead. This year, Nowruz comes at a difficult time for many families, when hope is needed more than ever—including for the women of Iran who are fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United States will continue to stand with them, and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction and courage. And together with our partners, we will continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people.
“As we welcome the season of spring—and the new growth and possibility it brings—we have decorated our Haft-Sin table at the White House to reflect our hopes for the new year. And, we join Americans everywhere in celebrating the diverse diaspora communities who continue to strengthen the fabric of our nation, generation after generation. To everyone celebrating, Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak—we wish you a peaceful and prosperous new year.”
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022: “Today we stand with the brave citizens and the brave women in Iran, who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.”
As a presidential candidate (2019-2020)
Nuclear Program and New Diplomacy
Op-Ed for CNN on Sept. 13, 2020: “I have no illusions about the challenges the regime in Iran poses to America's security interests, to our friends and partners and to its own people. But there is a smart way to be tough on Iran, and there is Trump's way. He ignored our closest allies and walked away -- alone, without a plan -- from a deal that put the world's eyes and ears inside Iran's nuclear program and was verifiably blocking Iran's pathways to a nuclear weapon.”
“Here's what I would do as President.
“First, I will make an unshakable commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“Second, I will offer Tehran a credible path back to diplomacy. 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. With our allies, we will work to strengthen and extend the nuclear deal's provisions, while also addressing other issues of concern. This includes working aggressively to free unjustly detained Americans and calling out the regime for its ongoing violations of human rights, including the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari this week and the wrongful detention of political prisoners, such as human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. And we will work to help our partners reduce tensions and help end regional conflicts, including the disastrous war in Yemen.
“I will also take steps to make sure US sanctions do not hinder Iran's fight against Covid-19. And on day one, I will repeal Trump's disgraceful travel ban targeting a number of Muslim-majority countries, among others.”
Interview with CNN on Dec. 3, 2020: “The bottom line is that we can't allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. And look how damaging this policy the president has gone for. He has pulled out to get something tougher. And what have they done? They've increased the ability for them to have nuclear material. They're moving closer to the ability to be able to have enough material for a nuclear weapon. There's the missile issue.
“All those things, I think, are going to be very difficult. But I know one thing. We cannot do this alone. And that's why we have to be part of a larger group, dealing not only with Iran, but with Russia, with China, and a whole range of other issues.”
In an interview with The New York Times on Dec. 1, 2020: “Look, there’s a lot of talk about precision missiles and all range of other things that are destabilizing the region.”
“The best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” is to deal “with the nuclear program.”
“In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program.”
Remarks at the CNN/Des Moines Register Democratic Debate on Jan. 14, 2020: “We're in a situation where our allies in Europe are making a comparison between the United States and Iran, saying both ought to stand down, making a moral equivalence. We have lost our standing in the region. We have lost the support of our allies. The next president has to be able to pull those folks back together, re-establish our alliances, and insist that Iran go back into the agreement, which I believe with the pressure applied as we put on before we can get done.”
Statement to the Council on Foreign Relations published on Aug. 1, 2019: “Iran is a destabilizing actor in the Middle East; it must never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. President Trump abandoned the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—a deal that blocked Iran’s paths to nuclear weapons, as repeatedly verified by international inspectors—with no viable plan to produce a better one. His reckless actions have produced a deep crisis in transatlantic relations and pushed China and Russia closer to Iran. As a result, the United States, rather than Iran, has been isolated. Predictably, Iran has restarted its nuclear program and become more aggressive, moving the region closer to another disastrous war. In short, Trump’s decisions have left us much worse off.
“What Iran is doing is dangerous, but still reversible. If Iran moves back into compliance with its nuclear obligations, I would re-enter the JCPOA as a starting point to work alongside our allies in Europe and other world powers to extend the deal’s nuclear constraints. Doing so would provide a critical down payment to re-establish U.S. credibility, signaling to the world that America’s word and international commitments once again mean something. I would also leverage renewed international consensus around America’s Iran policy—and a redoubled commitment to diplomacy—to more effectively push back against Tehran’s other malign behavior in the region.”
Speech at the City University of New York on July 11, 2019: “The historic Iran Nuclear Deal we negotiated blocked Iran from gaining nuclear weapons with inspectors on the ground, international inspectors confirming that the agreement was being kept. Trump cast it aside, prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program and become more provocative and raising the risk of another disastrous war in the region. If Tehran returns to compliance with the Deal, I would rejoin the agreement and work with our allies to strengthen and extend it while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s destabilizing activities which we are allowed to do and we had partners to do with us.”
Statement on Twitter on June 20, 2019: “President Trump's Iran strategy is a self-inflicted disaster. Two of America's vital interests in the Middle East are preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and securing a stable energy supply through the Strait of Hormuz. Trump is failing on both counts.
“He unilaterally withdrew from the hard-won nuclear agreement that the Obama-Biden Administration negotiated to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Trump promised that abandoning the deal and imposing sanctions would stop Iran’s aggression in the region.
“But they’ve only gotten more aggressive. Trump also promised that walking away would somehow lead to a better deal – instead, the predictable has happened: Iran is building back up its nuclear capability.
“It’s sadly ironic that the State Department is now calling on Iran to abide by the very deal the Trump Administration abandoned.
“By walking away from diplomacy, Trump has made military conflict more likely. Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need.
“Make no mistake: Iran continues to be a bad actor that abuses human rights and supports terrorist activities throughout the region.
“What we need is presidential leadership that will take strategic action to counter the Iranian threat, restore America's standing in the world, recognize the value of principled diplomacy, and strengthen our nation and our security by working strategically with our allies.”
Regional Meddling and Proxies
Op-Ed for CNN on Sept. 13, 2020: “[W]e will continue to push back against Iran's destabilizing activities, which threaten our friends and partners in the region. Drawing on the record-setting US-Israel security assistance agreement signed when I was Vice President, America will also work closely with Israel to ensure it can defend itself against Iran and its proxies. We will continue to use targeted sanctions against Iran's human rights abuses, its support for terrorism and ballistic missile program.
“If Iran chooses confrontation, I am prepared to defend our vital interests and our troops. But, I am ready to walk the path of diplomacy if Iran takes steps to show it is ready too.”
Remarks on Syria at a town hall in Davenport, Iowa on Oct. 16, 2019: “Look, they’ve now [the Trump administration] handed over … control of northwest Syria, back to the brutal Russian and Iranian backed regime.
“How does this keep America safe? How does it advance our interests around the world? The answer is quite simple. It doesn’t. It devastates us. How does it benefit anyone other than our adversaries? Russia, which is now at the table, to further expand its influence throughout Syria, encourage Iran to be more engaged on the western shore or eastern shore of the Mediterranean.”
“Iran and Hezbollah now are going to be more emboldened to use Syria to launch attacks against Israel from the Golan and other places.”
Trump “also authorized a deployment of thousands of additional troops, thousands of additional troops into the Gulf and Saudi Arabia to deal with another crisis of his making, one with Iran.”
“But this time, the crisis we have to deal with in Iran, we have to go it alone. None of our partners want in on the deal. America, you caused the problem, you deal, you deal with the Quds Force. You deal with the terrorists coming out of Iran, not us. So don’t believe Trump’s con here. This is not American leadership. This is bending to the will of a strong man and this is not an end of forever wars. It’s a recipe for more forever wars.”
Remarks on Jan. 7, 2019: “The Iraqi parliament has voted to eject all American and coalition forces from the country. And however you may feel about an American military presence in the Middle East, there is a right way and a wrong way to draw down our troop presence. Getting unceremoniously kicked out is unequivocally the wrong way. And if we do end up having to leave, that would be another boon to Iran — tipping the balance of power in the region.”
U.S. Killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Remarks on Jan. 7, 2020: “The haphazard decision-making process that led up to it, the failure to consult our allies or Congress, and the reckless disregard for the consequences that would surely follow — was dangerously incompetent.
“Turning the page on two decades of large-scale military deployments and open-ended wars in the Middle East does not mean the United States will abandon a region where we and our partners still have enduring interests. Democrats believe it’s past time, however, to rebalance our tools, engagement, and relationships in the Middle East away from military intervention—leading with pragmatic diplomacy to lay the groundwork for a more peaceful, stable, and free region. “Democrats will call off the Trump Administration’s race to war with Iran and prioritize nuclear diplomacy, de-escalation, and regional dialogue. Democrats believe the United States should not impose regime change on other countries and reject that as the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran. We believe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remains the best means to verifiably cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. The Trump Administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA isolated us from our allies and opened the door for Iran to resume its march toward a nuclear weapons capacity that the JCPOA had stopped. That’s why returning to mutual compliance with the agreement is so urgent. The nuclear deal was always meant to be the beginning, not the end, of our diplomacy with Iran. Democrats support a comprehensive diplomatic effort to extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression. “Democrats also believe we need to reset our relations with our Gulf partners to better advance our interests and values. The United States has an interest in helping our partners contend with legitimate security threats; we will support their political and economic modernization and encourage efforts to reduce regional tensions. But we have no interest in continuing the blank-check era of the Trump Administration, or indulging authoritarian impulses, internal rivalries, catastrophic proxy wars, or efforts to roll back political openings across the region.”
“In the wake of such an enormous escalation that has exploded geo-politics in the region and put the United States and Iran on a collision course, what would we expect of an American President — and what have we heard from President Trump?
“We have not heard a sober-minded explanation to reassure the American people about his decision and its consequences.
“Not level-headed words meant to dial down tensions and take us off the path of conflict.
“No press conference or consultation with Congress.
“No — all we have heard from this president is tweets. Threats. Tantrums.
“And all we have heard from his administration are shifting explanations, evasive answers, and repeated assertions of an imminent threat, without the necessary evidence to support that conclusion.
“And since this is a president with a history of lying about everything — who has destroyed his own credibility, and that of the United States on the global stage — neither the American people, nor our allies, are inclined to take his word for it.
“If there was an imminent threat that required extraordinary action, then we are owed that explanation — and the facts to back it up.
“These are matters of deadly import, so let me be unmistakably clear: Donald Trump does not have the authority to go to war with Iran without Congressional authorization.
“Working with Congress is not an optional part of the job. Presidential notification to Congress about the need to exercise war powers cannot be satisfied in 280 characters or less.
“And no president should ever take the United States to war without securing the informed consent of the American people.
“So — because he refuses to level with the American people about the danger in which he has placed American troops and our diplomatic personnel and civilians, as well as our partners and allies, or to demonstrate even a modicum of presidential gravitas — I will.”
“Make no mistake: this outcome of strategic setbacks, heightened threats, chants of ‘death to America” once more echoing across the Middle East, Iran and its allies vowing revenge. This was avoidable.”
“Trump’s impulsive decision may well do more to strengthen Iran’s position in the region than any of Soleimani’s plots would have ever accomplished.”
War with Iran
Statement about President Trump’s veto of a war powers resolution on May 8, 2020: “The President’s message in vetoing the war powers resolution on Iran demonstrates yet again his contempt for the U.S. Congress as a co-equal branch of government. The war power is shared under our Constitution, for a simple but profound reason: the Framers understood that the solemn decision to take the country to war requires the informed consent of the American people, as expressed through their elected representatives and their President. When I am President, I will work closely with Congress on decisions to use force, not dismiss congressional legislation as ‘very insulting.’
“One thing is unmistakably clear: Donald Trump’s policy decisions have increased the risk of war in the Middle East. Two years ago today, he withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement — a deal that was verifiably blocking Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Back then, he promised us a better deal. He hasn’t delivered. Instead, Iran has ramped up its nuclear enrichment activity, moving them closer to the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb. And Iran has become even more provocative in the region, increasing the danger for American forces stationed in the Middle East.
“Despite his veto of the congressional joint resolution, Donald Trump should understand this: he does not have the authority to go to war with Iran without Congressional authorization.”
Comments on the PBS Newshour on Jan. 4, 2018: “When we were in office, we had this dangerous situation. The Iranian navy, picked up and arrested and took on board American sailors. I was with John Kerry. John Kerry immediately got on his cell phone and called [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif]. Four calls later… it was settled diplomatically. They were freed, and there was no war.”
Statement on April 2, 2020: “In times of global crisis, America should lead. We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been. And, in the midst of this deadly pandemic that respects no borders, the United States should take steps to offer what relief we can to those nations hardest hit by this virus — including Iran — even as we prioritize the health of the American people.
“Iran is struggling to contain one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world. While the Iranian government has failed to respond effectively to this crisis, including lying and concealing the truth from its own people, and it continues to act provocatively in the region, the Iranian people are hurting desperately. It is bad enough that the Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of a "maximum pressure" strategy that has badly backfired, encouraging Iran to become even more aggressive and restart its nuclear program. It makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance. Whatever our profound differences with the Iranian government, we should support the Iranian people.
“There are already humanitarian exceptions in place for sanctions, but in practice, most governments and organizations are too concerned about running afoul of U.S. sanctions to offer assistance. As a result, our sanctions are limiting Iran’s access to medical supplies and needed equipment. The Trump Administration should take immediate steps to address this problem and streamline channels for banking and public health assistance from other countries in response to the health emergency in Iran.
“Specific steps should include: issuing broad licenses to pharmaceutical and medical device companies; creating a dedicated channel for international banks, transportation companies, insurers, and other service firms to help Iranians access life-saving medical treatment; issuing new sanctions guidance to these groups and international aid organizations to make it clear how they can immediately, directly, and legally respond to the tragedy in Iran, without fear of penalty; and, for entities already conducting enhanced due diligence, it should issue comfort letters to reassure them that they will not be subject to U.S. sanctions if they engage in humanitarian trade with Iran to support its COVID-19 response. The administration should also consider similar steps to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not inhibit live-saving medical assistance to other countries hard hit by the virus.
“The administration’s offer of aid to Iran is insufficient if not backed by concrete steps to ensure the United States is not exacerbating this growing humanitarian crisis. Whatever our many, many disagreements with the Iranian government, it’s the right and the humane thing to do. And Iran also should make a humanitarian gesture and allow detained American citizens to return home.
“To stop this pandemic effectively, every country on earth will need to work together. We must address COVID-19 outbreaks wherever they occur, because as long as this virus is spreading anywhere in the world, it is a danger to public health everywhere. Artificially limiting the flow of international humanitarian assistance to pursue a political point will not only allow the Iranian government to deflect responsibility for its own botched response, it will increase the threat this virus poses to the American people, now and in the future.”
Human Rights Abuses
Iran’s cruel execution of Navid Afkari is a travesty. No country should arrest, torture, or execute peaceful protestors or activists.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 12, 2020
Iran must free its other political prisoners, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, and release unjustly detained Americans. https://t.co/Jj9QZbyQL7
Democratic Party Platform in July 2020
“Turning the page on two decades of large-scale military deployments and open-ended wars in the Middle East does not mean the United States will abandon a region where we and our partners still have enduring interests. Democrats believe it’s past time, however, to rebalance our tools, engagement, and relationships in the Middle East away from military intervention—leading with pragmatic diplomacy to lay the groundwork for a more peaceful, stable, and free region.
“Democrats will call off the Trump Administration’s race to war with Iran and prioritize nuclear diplomacy, de-escalation, and regional dialogue. Democrats believe the United States should not impose regime change on other countries and reject that as the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran. We believe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remains the best means to verifiably cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. The Trump Administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA isolated us from our allies and opened the door for Iran to resume its march toward a nuclear weapons capacity that the JCPOA had stopped. That’s why returning to mutual compliance with the agreement is so urgent. The nuclear deal was always meant to be the beginning, not the end, of our diplomacy with Iran. Democrats support a comprehensive diplomatic effort to extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression.
“Democrats also believe we need to reset our relations with our Gulf partners to better advance our interests and values. The United States has an interest in helping our partners contend with legitimate security threats; we will support their political and economic modernization and encourage efforts to reduce regional tensions. But we have no interest in continuing the blank-check era of the Trump Administration, or indulging authoritarian impulses, internal rivalries, catastrophic proxy wars, or efforts to roll back political openings across the region.”
As Vice President (2009-2017)
Speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2009: "The Iranian people are a great people; the Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its own people. Its illicit nuclear program is but one of those manifestations. Our administration is reviewing our policy toward Iran, but this much is clear: We will be willing to talk. We’ll be willing to talk to Iran and to offer a very clear choice: Continue down the current course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives."
Speech in Florida on the Iran nuclear deal in September 2015: “This is a good deal, first and foremost, for the United States. It’s a good deal for the world, the region, and it’s a good deal for Israel and the Gulf Cooperation [Council] states. And I tell you I firmly believe it will make us and Israel safer, not weaker.”
As a Senator (1972-2009)
Interview with ABC after visiting the Sixth Fleet near the Persian Gulf in April 1980: "I was not of the opinion that the use of force at this time by way of the use of military force was the best way to accommodate the release and the safe release of the 50 hostages."
"Even if the hostages are released tomorrow, I would not advise the president of United States, were he to ask, to remove that force. I think it's absolutely essential that we have a major show of force in that area of the world because my concern is first and foremost for the safety of those hostages but even beyond that is for the protection of keeping the Straits of Hormuz open, being able to interdict any Soviet activity in the area and having a significant air strike capability to counter Soviet moves either in Afghanistan or south of Afghanistan into Baluchistan or into Iran itself."
Op-ed in The New York Times in April 1981: "We should have learned from the fall of the Shah that our sophisticated military equipment should not be entrusted to unstable regimes. The Phoenix missiles sold to the Shah are now considered compromised. If the [Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft] offered to him had actually been delivered, how secure would we be today?"
"Our Iran experience should teach us that at best any such leverage may prove slight, and that at worst a change in government or the outbreak of another regional war could entrap both our personnel and our policies."
Interview on Fox News Sunday in February 1998: "Quite frankly, I think Iran and it's missile capacity maybe longer term a greater threat [than Iraq], although there is some hope there... I want to see the mullahs actually change their attitude."
Comments to Senate committee staffers in October 2001: “Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran."
Speaking at the American Iranian Council in March 2002: "Today, I'd like to share with you my views on the United States policy toward Iran and the kind of relationship I believe the United States and Iran should have. To save you the suspense, the short answer is: a much better relationship than it currently enjoys. I say this for one simple reason: I believe that an improved relationship with Iran is in the naked self-interest of the United States, and I would presume to suggest Iran's interest as well."
"It is not an understatement in my view to say that the direction Iran takes in the coming years will have a significant impact upon American strategic interest in the region. Clearly we cannot speak of Iran's direction without addressing its internal political dynamics. Since President Khatami's election in 1997, Iran has been embroiled in a gradually escalating power struggle that the outside world has watched with considerable interest and sometimes with some bafflement. While elections haven't been perfect, the Iranian people have made clear in four separate ballots over four years that they are demanding fundamental change."
"If Iran evolves in a more democratic direction and the US-Iranian relationship improves, then the threat it poses certainly is much reduced. This then raises the question of the ongoing power struggle underway within Iran. The United States is not in a position to have a major impact on this struggle in my view nor should we intervene in any -- let me repeat -- nor should we intervene in any direct way. We should be mindful of the painful history of our two countries which includes reported CIA support for a coup in 1953 and it still resonates with many Iranians. And it should counsel us to be extra cautious."
Remarks reported by The Washington Post in February 2004: "There are clearly significant elements today in Iran who believe they need a more normalized relationship with the United States in order for them to fulfill their economic and political potential in the world."
Remarks to NBC News in June 2005: “I’d love to see the regime change, but I think the policy should be: How do we prevent them from getting nuclear weapons? How do we prevent them from moving forward in missile technology and how do we prevent them from becoming the kind of irritant and trouble in … Iraq...That should be the policy. And it seems to me in order to do that, you have to deal with them. It’s going to be a tough, tough, tough negotiation, but we have to get in the game. We have to actually engage them.”
Opening statement at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in July 2008: I've seen reports suggesting the administration is considering establishing an American diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years. I think that's a good idea. A diplomatic presence would increase our knowledge of the forces at work inside Iran. It would give us a stronger diplomatic hand to play, and it would decrease the chances of miscalculation. It would also help us more effectively operate exchange programs so as to increase contacts between Americans and the Iranian people. For those who say aren't we giving up something in return for nothing from the Iranians, I would argue what I've just stated is something in terms of our interests. I would also suggest the world should see whether or not Iran would accept-- would Iran accept such a mission, because it will tell us a lot in my view about the seriousness in being willing to negotiate."
"We should insist on firm commitments from those governments--if we were to do this--to impose serious sanctions if Iran continues to defy the U.N. Security Council by not suspending enrichment and related work on plutonium reprocessing. Engaging Iran and sanctioning Iran are not only compatible, in my view they are mutually reinforcing, notwithstanding the contrary argument that always is made in this town. Again, let me say: Engaging Iran and sanctioning are not only compatible, they are mutually reinforcing. Sanctions can provide the leverage for negotiations."
"We should exploit the cracks within Iran's ruling elite and between its rulers and its people. The Iranian people need to know that their government is choosing isolation over cooperation. Right now, the way we position ourselves, we're made to look like the bad guy. Always rebroadcast in Iran is the veiled threats of the United States of America, when in fact the Iranian people don't like their government very much to begin with, and I think it's very important they fully understand that it is us who are willing to engage and not their government if their government chooses not to engage."
"I believe that now is the time for aggressive diplomacy for Iran, including direct U.S. engagement, if for no other reason than to demonstrate to our allies that we are not the problem and put the onus on the Iranians either to engage forthrightly or demonstrate to the world they are the problem and unwilling to do so."
Garrett Nada, managing editor of The Iran Primer, wrote the summary for this article. Caitlin Crahan, a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center, provided research support.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons