Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), in keynote remarks yesterday at a Middle East Institute conference on U.S. policy toward Iran, argued the United States should continue upholding the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while also pushing back on Iran for other actions as needed.
The Trump administration is currently reviewing its own policy toward Iran, including U.S. participation in the nuclear deal, despite the success of the agreement to date.
Coons said the Iran review is being conducted in a “thorough and professional manner” by the National Security Council, and noted that National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis all “rightly caution against walking away” from the deal. While the timeline and the outcome of the policy review is still unclear, Coons argued that upholding the JCPOA and challenging Iranian behavior need not be mutually exclusive.
To that end, Coons urged the House of Representatives to pass and the president to sign the non-nuclear sanctions bill passed by the Senate June 15 by a vote of 98-2. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned against the passage of future sanctions legislation, citing fears that it could complicate Washington’s commitments under the nuclear deal.
Coons acknowledged that threading the needle on sanctions is a “very important and delicate balance.” He then went on to reaffirm his support for the deal, noting that “much of what it offered has been fulfilled.” The deal must further be supported with diligent insistence that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has the proper funding to continue its responsibilities, he argued, and by insuring the adequate intelligence, diplomatic, and development resources to make the deal a success.
He also noted the agreement has so far achieved its objective and is “one of the more successful global actions in counterproliferation.” If the United States were to walk away from the deal, Coons warned, it would no longer receive the benefits of constant IAEA monitoring of Iranian nuclear activities, the freeze on enrichment, and the international cooperation which are hallmarks of the deal.
Coons also pushed back against calls for regime change in response to Iran’s recent behavior, calling such remarks ill-advised. He acknowledged that Iran’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, its human rights abuses, and support of proxy fighters across the region amounted to “destabilizing, dangerous, or disappointing actions.” Yet he also challenged advocates of a regime change policy to think of the disastrous consequences that such a policy would entail.
Coons then outlined multiple instances where the Trump administration has been complicit in worsening relations between the United States and Iran since the president’s inauguration. In particular, according to Coons, the president’s statement following the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran “wasn’t constructive.”
Diplomatic channels established by the nuclear deal should not be casually shutdown, Coons also argued. Such channels could offer a multitude of benefits to the United States, including an avenue to negotiate a successor agreement to the deal that would extend its benefits.
In the meantime, it is critical that Washington continue to meet its obligations under the deal and that Congress refrain from unilateral actions that undermine the accord and threaten its success.