In the first major Democratic challenge to President Joe Biden’s Iran policy Senator Bob Menendez has asked that the president adopt a tougher position on Iran.
The Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday issued his call not in a letter or a tweet, but on the Senate Floor in detailed remarks that clearly laid out his concerns over the Biden Administration’s negotiations with Iran over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
Over the past one year, as the Administration has embarked on a policy of reviving the agreement, Republicans have repeatedly appealed to Biden not to slacken pressure on Tehran and not to return to a deal that they argued was weak from its inception. But Democrats had largely stayed aloof, not challenging Biden’s efforts during ten months of talks with Tehran that so far have not resulted in an agreement.
Menedez, who opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) when it was negotiated by the Obama administration, said Biden should not stick to the current negotiations in Vienna while Iran continues to expand its nuclear program, fast approaching the point of being able to make a bomb.
“As someone who has followed Iran's nuclear ambition for the better part of three decades, I am here today to raise concerns about the current round of negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Iran’s dangerously and rapidly escalating nuclear program that has put it on the brink of having enough material for a nuclear weapon,” the Senator said.
He also highlighted Iran’s regional behavior and its ballistic missile programs, two issues untouched by the JCPOA, but cited as reasons by former president Donald Trump when he withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 and impose tough sanctions on Iran.
Menedez argued that what the Administration is negotiating about does not seem to include non-nuclear issue, or even a stronger nuclear agreement and said, “at this point, we seriously have to ask what exactly are we trying to salvage?”
The New Jersey Senator in detail explained how Iran has been circumventing US oil export sanctions since early 2021 and demanded stronger enforcement by the Biden Administration. “We can’t turn a blind eye to these violations,” Menendez said.
At the same time, the Senator proposed to establish a regional nuclear fuel bank to help Iran with fuel for energy generation, if its aim is purely civilian. He emphasized that the United States should demand that Iran immediately ratify the Additional Protocol to allow for inspection of suspect nuclear sites, ban all uranium enrichment centrifuges and close its Fordow enrichment facility.
Going beyond the nuclear issue, Senator Menendez insisted that “We cannot ignore Iran’s nefarious support for terrorism or accept threats to American interests and lives.” He added, “That is why I’m calling on the Biden administration and our international partners to exert more pressure on Iran to counter its nuclear program, its missile program, and its dangerous behavior around the Middle East, including attacks on American personnel and assets.”
He warned that the US does not know how far Iran has advanced in developing a nuclear warhead, while it is approaching the point of having enough fissile material for a bomb.
Menedez warned that Iran has reached a significant strategic power with its missile program, which by itself is a serious threat.
“It’s time to start thinking out of the box and consider new strategies for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program and addressing its dangerous and nefarious activities. These new efforts should include creative diplomatic initiatives, stricter sanctions enforcement, and a steely determination from Congress to back up President Biden’s declaration that Iran will ‘never get a nuclear weapon on my watch’,” Bob Menendez said.