The proponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) decried former President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018, but he was able to do so without so much as a flick of a pen because President Barack Obama refused to submit it to the U.S. Senate as a treaty. It should not be as easy to rejoin it. Congress should insist that any agreement with Iran obtain the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.
The Biden team is comprised of several people who were out-negotiated but refuse to admit failure that was predictable. Iran did not change its policies, did not disclose required information about its nuclear program, did not submit to anytime anyplace inspections, did not halt development of nuclear weapons technology and did not have its path to a bomb blocked.
Obama argued a bad deal was better than no deal when the conclusion should have been the inverse. After the Senate voted 98-1 to give Congress the right to review any agreement with Iran, he knew it could not be ratified as a treaty. Obama subsequently argued that he had the executive authority to sign a deal without congressional approval.
Senate Republicans tried to block the agreement, and Obama made Democrats’ support for the deal a test of loyalty. A Democratic filibuster prevented a vote that would have led to a rejection of the accord. Not a single member of the majority party supported the agreement—a reminder that if Biden returns to the deal without the consent of Congress, it will be another example of foregoing the bipartisanship he promised.
Biden says Iran must return to compliance with the JCPOA; however, the Iranians never came clean about their nuclear program. They banned inspectors from military sites where violations were most likely to occur. We also learned—thanks to the Israelis and not the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—that Iran maintained plans for building a bomb and conducted experiments to develop them at a secret site that was sanitized before the IAEA sent in inspectors.
The IAEA’s failures were not surprising given that it was unaware of the Iranian nuclear program in the first place; it still has no idea what secret facilities or activities may be going on today. Meanwhile, we know from German intelligence that Iran never stopped seeking materials for weapons of mass destruction.
The JCPOA also proved worthless because of the Europeans’ unwillingness to enforce it because they were more interested in expanding their commercial interests with Iran. They have tried to work around U.S. sanctions and, now that Iran is openly violating the agreement, they refuse to activate the snapback sanctions that were central to Obama’s case for the deal.
Congress should be even more insistent on preventing a return to the JCPOA given all of Iran’s violations. For example:
- The Iranian stockpile of low-enriched uranium is now nearly 12 times the amount permitted.
- Iran increased the purity of the uranium it is enriching to 20 percent, violating the agreement’s limit of 3.67 percent. Iran now has sufficient enriched uranium to produce two nuclear weapons if it can be enriched to 90 percent.
- Iran has installed more sophisticated centrifuges and is feeding uranium gas into them.
- Iran has not explained having uranium at a site discovered by Israel in 2019.
- Iran is building a new underground nuclear fuel enrichment facility in Natanz to protect its centrifuge production.
- Iran has started manufacturing equipment it will use to produce uranium metal at a site in Isfahan, which can be used to construct the core of a nuclear weapon.
Worse, Obama claimed that the JCPOA “cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to the bomb,” but admitted that as early as year 13 of the deal (2028), “the breakout times [for building a bomb] would have shrunk almost down to zero.” It is only 2021, and U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has said Iran is “weeks away” from having sufficient material to develop a nuclear weapon.
Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign failed; Iran’s economy was severely weakened, but it is closer to a bomb than it was before the United States left the JCPOA. That doesn’t mean we should return to the loophole-filled agreement that did not stop Iran’s pursuit of a bomb and did not prohibit its development of ballistic missiles, sponsorship of terror or destabilization of the region.
New negotiations must be backed by a credible threat of using military force if Iran does not accept draconian terms to end the threat it poses to our national interests and our allies. Any agreement must then be submitted to the Senate as a treaty.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”