Two prominent figures from the US Republican and Democratic parties have agreed on a strategy to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, beyond the 2015 nuclear deal.
The alternative plan was proposed by Democrat Bob Menendez, who represents New Jersey in the US Senate and serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Lindsey Graham, who represents South Carolina.
They both suggested a plan that ensures a broad and integrated bipartisan diplomatic approach aimed at containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and limiting its destabilizing activities in the region.
“There is a common misperception that those of us who opposed the Iran nuclear deal are simply opposed to diplomacy with Iran,” they wrote in an article published in the Washington Post.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. 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.”
They urged President Joe Biden to think beyond the mere restoration of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which the Obama administration and its European partners, China and Russia, reached with Iran six years ago.
Menendez and Graham suggested a way to achieve a compromise that will find support among the countries of the region, meet Iran’s stated goal for peaceful nuclear power and avoid an arms race in the Middle East.
“We believe that countries that desire a peaceful, responsible nuclear power program to provide electricity and jobs to their people should be able to do so safely,” they noted.
As a concrete step toward this end, they suggested building on a proposal made by various countries in the past that calls for “creating a regional nuclear fuel bank.”
Moreover, they stressed that following the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal and Iran’s ensuing escalatory nuclear advancements, the deal itself is “all but broken.”
In 2018, they warned that the world needed a diplomatic path to a solution, and that withdrawal without a diplomatic plan would lead to a more dangerous Iran.
“Indeed, Iran has raised the stakes, blocked the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, subsequently enriched uranium up to 60 percent, installed new advanced centrifuges and increased its stockpile of enriched uranium.”
The senators further accused Tehran of escalating tensions to build a stronger negotiating position.
They pointed to US intelligence reports, which indicated that Tehran and its allies “continue to plot terrorist attacks against US persons and interests,” while conducting destabilizing online influence operations and building up the region’s largest arsenal of ballistic missiles.
They wondered why diplomatic efforts are limited to controlling Iran’s nuclear program, while they should be seeking an approach that meaningfully constrains this behavior and the leverage Iran continues to derive from it.
“Even during the short time in which all parties were implementing the JCPOA, Iran continued transferring increasingly sophisticated arms to Hezbollah (in Lebanon), bolstering the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and exploiting Houthi grievances in Yemen, where it has established growing influence.”
They underscored the importance of giving more sanctions relief if they are seeking more from Tehran.
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, they suggested.
The senators finally called on the administration to work to ensure justice for all American citizens, including those who continue to be “unjustly detained” in Tehran.