Senate Dems, Israeli PM to Biden: What's the rush on the Iran deal?

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The neo-JCPOA looks worse and worse the longer it goes, that’s why. Earlier this month, House Democrats began publicly balking at the apparent giveaway Joe Biden’s renewed Iran deal would constitute. Now several Senate Democrats have added their voices to the dissent, as Israel and other US allies object or start looking for better alliances.

Plus, of course, the idea of cutting a deal with Russia and China as guarantors of Tehran’s compliance is utterly absurd in the first place:

Lawmakers in both parties say they have been left largely in the dark about what a new agreement with Iran might look like, and they fear it will be significantly weaker than the deal former President Obama cut in 2015 because the United States has lost time and leverage.

There are also doubts whether it is currently a good time to negotiate a new agreement when U.S. relations with Russia and China, two signatories to the original Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are at a multiyear low.

The substance of that arrangement is worse than the optics, but the optics are enough to worry Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill. That includes a couple of Senate Democrats that balked at the initial 2015 deal cut by Barack Obama, but after a classified briefing late last week, no one’s changing their minds this time around either:

There are concerns that a new deal could wind up steering billions of dollars to Russia as it would allow the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, to continue doing nuclear energy business with Iran.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he doesn’t know enough about the details of the emerging deal to say whether it will be strong enough for him to support.

Russia’s ability to evade sanctions is hardly the biggest problem here. Biden is essentially allowing Putin to act as guarantor to Iran’s compliance with anti-WMD proliferation treaties that Iran has already signed and then violated for years before getting caught with its nuclear-weapons development program. At present, Biden is concurrently warning that Putin himself might use WMDs (chemical weapons and tactical nukes) in Ukraine. So far, no one at the White House has squared that circle, not even enough to satisfy Biden’s own allies, The Hill reports.

More pointedly, Benjamin Cardin defended the original JCPOA when Donald Trump backed out of it in 2018. He’s not so sanguine about Biden’s efforts to reinstate it now, especially while relying on Russia and China for our national security concerns:

“We know the dynamics among the partners are dicey at best,” he said. “We knew our relationship with China has changed. Our relationship with Russia has changed.”

He said waiting to renegotiate the deal “may be the best strategy” but he wants to talk to the administration about it.

“I’m not necessarily for rushing into an agreement,” he said. “I still believe we should have a longer agreement,” Cardin said, referring to the terms of the 2015 deal that required Iran to reduce its centrifuges for a period of only 10 years.

It doesn’t help that American allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia have made their displeasure clear over Biden’s rush to trust Putin on Iran. Yesterday, Israeli PM Naftali Bennett publicly objected to any concession on the status of the IRGC, formalizing that particular complaint:

Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday said he was concerned about the nuclear deal’s pending return, which would include removing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the U.S. and Israeli list of terrorist groups.

“We are very concerned about the United States’ intention to give in to Iran’s outrageous demand and remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations,” Bennett told members of his cabinet, according to The Times of Israel.

“This is not just an Israeli problem,” Bennett continued. “Other countries—allies of the United States in the region—face this organization day in and day out… even now, the IRGC terrorist organization is trying to murder certain Israelis and Americans around the world.

“Unfortunately, there is still determination to sign the nuclear deal with Iran at almost any cost—including saying that the world’s largest terrorist organization is not a terrorist organization. This is too high a price.”

The Saudis have already voted more with their feet than with their mouths, having refused to take Biden’s phone calls about oil supplies. They’re also unhappy about Biden’s decision to de-list the Houthis as terrorists, especially after they attacked a Saudi oil facility yesterday. Today, the Saudis announced that they’re not going to go out of their way to make up for any output shortfalls as a result of this attack:

Saudi Arabia said on Monday that it “won’t bear any responsibility” for a shortage in global oil supplies after a fierce barrage of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels affected production in the kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter.

The unusually stark warning marked a departure from the giant oil producer’s typically cautious statements, as Saudi officials remain aware that even their smallest comments can swing the price of oil and rattle global markets.

The salvo of rebel attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities marked a serious escalation in the war, which erupted in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. Saudi Arabia and its allies responded with a devastating air campaign to dislodge the Houthis and restore the internationally recognized government. Seven years later, the conflict has turned into a bloody stalemate and spawned the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted the Saudi Foreign Ministry as saying that the kingdom “declares that it will not bear any responsibility for any shortage in oil supplies to global markets in light of the attacks on its oil facilities.”

In short, Biden’s approach on the Iran deal is that (a) its proxies aren’t terrorist groups, (b) the IRGC doesn’t control Iran’s proxies, (c) Iran will suddenly adhere to cooperative agreements with the Great Satan, and (d) Vladimir Putin (and Xi Jinping) can be trusted as guarantors for American and Israeli security while Putin props up Bashar Assad in Syria.

The question therefore isn’t why Democrats on Capitol Hill are balking at Biden’s plans. It’s why they’re not demanding that Biden fire Robert Malley and then get his own head examined.