Five Democrats running for the presidency said they would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if elected, a Middle-eastern online newspaper found. Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced sanctions against 31 Iranian individuals and entities and two State Department officials said Iran is taking steps to restart its nuclear weapons program.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) declared they’d rejoin the Iran deal if Iran abides by it and so did two less-known candidates: Mayor of Miramar, Florida, Wayne Messam and writer and charity activist Marianne Williamson, reported Al-Monitor on March 19.
Most other Democrat candidates didn’t respond to the paper’s inquiry regarding the Obama-era deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018.
The National Security Action group led by former officials of the Obama administration, has spread a draft memo to all Democrat candidates asking them to rejoin the JCPOA, Al-Monitor reported, without citing a source.
“While we won’t speak to private conversations, the message we have been sending is clear and simple,” Ned Price, the group’s policy director, told the paper. “If Iran remains in compliance, the next administration should rejoin the Iran deal and use principled diplomacy to negotiate a follow-on agreement to keep the Iranian nuclear program in a box for the long term.”
Harris “would rejoin the Iran deal if the US could verify Iran is not cheating and is complying with” the deal, her spokesman said. “She believes we must engage in tough, forceful diplomacy to combat Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.”
A Warren spokesperson voiced a similar sentiment, saying that “as long as Iran continues to abide by the terms of the deal, she would return to it as president in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Sanders’s aide said he “would rejoin the JCPOA and would also be prepared to talk to Iran on a range of other issues.”
“Rejoining the JCPOA would mean meeting the United States’ commitments under the agreement, and that includes sanctions relief,” the aide said.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, also a candidate, wouldn’t say one way or the other.
“My concern right now, my focus, is the denuclearization of Iran,” he said. “We need to be focused on best strategies to get us there. 2021 is a long time from now, and I’m focused on the steps we have to do right now.”
Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the deal in May 2018 and ordered the reimposing of sanctions on Iran.
The deal was signed in 2015 by the Obama administration along with Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. It required Iran to delay its capacity to build a nuclear weapon until 2026 in exchange for sanctions relief.
Trump had long criticized the deal for asking too little of the Islamic regime, such as not addressing its ballistic missile program, its financing of terrorists, and more. Evidence has also emerged that Iran negotiated the deal in bad faith.
In April 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he said were Iranian documents obtained by Israeli intelligence that proved Iran’s development of nuclear weapons before the 2015 deal, while the regime claimed its nuclear program didn’t seek to build arms.
Moreover, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic agency, said on Jan. 22 that the regime secretly bought components for its heavy water reactor near Arak, a critical component in the production of weapons-grade plutonium, even though the nuclear deal required the regime to disable it.
Obama promoted the deal as “the best option,” painting a picture of an Iran “rejoining the community of nations.”
Instead, Iran announced in 2017 an intent to boost its military spending by 150 percent in five years. In recent months, it has tested a cruise missile, unveiled a cruise missile-armed submarine, boasted its capability to quickly restart uranium enrichment, and twice attempted to launch satellites, which use technology similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles. Both attempts failed.
Road to Nukes
On March 22, the State Department and the Treasury put sanctions on 14 individuals and 17 entities in connection with Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND), a think tank under the regime’s Defense Department.
U.S. government sanctions organizations and individuals in connection with an Iranian defense entity linked to Iran’s previous nuclear weapons effort https://t.co/87gAl0978a
— Treasury Department (@USTreasury) March 22, 2019
SPND “has provided support to designated Iranian defense entities and [its] key personnel played a central role in the Iranian regime’s past nuclear weapons effort,” the Treasury stated in a release.
The sanctions target “SPND subordinate groups, supporters, front companies, and associated officials.”
SPND’s continued existence “highlights the problem of Iran’s ongoing preparation to reconstitute its whole weapons program, if it chooses to,” said Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.
“They are doing everything they can to keep in existence a virtual turnkey capability to get back into the weaponization business…at a moment’s notice,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
“They continue to operate in ways that mean the intellectual wealth of that program continues to be able to function,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The officials stopped short of saying Iran has actually restarted its nuclear weapons program.
CIA Director Gina Haspel testified to Congress on Jan. 29 that Iran is still “technically in compliance” with the nuclear deal, but “the Iranians are considering taking steps that would lessen their adherence to the JCPOA as they seek to pressure the Europeans to come through with the investment and trade benefits that Iran hoped to gain from the deal.”
The United Kingdom, France, and Germany continue to voice their commitment to the deal and even directed their companies to defy the U.S. sanctions. Yet most major European companies have pulled out of Iran in fear of getting penalized by the United States, said Ziad Abdelnour, CEO of the New York-based private equity firm Blackhawk Partners, in a March 1 Epoch Times op-ed.
“The Trump administration’s effectiveness in diminishing Iran’s oil exports and cutting off its access to the global financial system has far exceeded the expectations of most pundits,” Abdelnour said.