If President Joe Biden changes or adjusts the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—then he is obligated to bring it to Congress. This is not the wishful thinking of critics of the agreement; it is according to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) of 2015.
In May of 2015, Congress passed INARA, giving itself the right to review any future agreements or modifications reached regarding the Iran nuclear deal, in essence reserving the right to assess any changes made. Since it’s almost impossible to restore the deal intact since six years have passed since it was written, a return to the JCPOA promised by Biden means a new agreement. The administration’s strategy will be to ignore Congress, claiming that any changes will not be substantive, so INARA does not apply.
According to former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker, writing in RealClearWorld, “The Act mandates congressional review—and provides for potential disapproval—of not just the JCPOA, but any “agreement related to the nuclear program of Iran … regardless of the form it takes … the Act (also) prohibits the extension of sanctions relief during the 30 days the law sets aside for congressional review of any nuclear agreement with Iran.”
Biden promised to rejoin the JCPOA, and lengthen and strengthen the unsigned agreement. Unfortunately, his Iran envoy Robert Malley has said that if Iran returns to full compliance, then they will immediately get sanctions relief. Does that mean removing all sanctions, including those for their egregious human-rights abuses, missile proliferation and counterterrorism? U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that no significant amendments will be added before rejoining the agreement. I don’t follow the administration’s logic—beginning negotiations with the wily Iranian regime by giving away all its leverage.
In response this month, Sens. James Risch (-Wis.) and Hagerty (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation called the Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021 (S. 488) to address the administration’s contradictory approach and messaging. Risch said, “It’s increasingly clear that the Biden administration’s promises to ‘lengthen and strengthen’ the Iran nuclear deal are instead an attempt to re-enter the flawed 2015 JCPOA at any cost. … This bill would require Congress to approve any Biden administration effort to lift sanctions against the Iranian regime. The United States currently maintains a position of significant leverage with Iran because our sanctions are working. Given that reality, the administration should keep its promises to address the JCPOA’s looming sunsets, as well as Iran’s regional terrorism, ballistic-missile activity and wrongful imprisonment of Americans.”
And that is where INARA comes in. If Biden keeps his promise to be the anti-Trump, following the law he needs to go back to Congress before obligating America to trust the theocratic Islamic regime, which hid and lied about its nuclear program for decades. Like all recent executives of both parties, Biden will claim that foreign policy is the exclusive purview of the president. That is because the Senate has allowed presidents to run roughshod over its constitutional duties for decades. The Senate should speak up now—that includes members on both sides of the aisle. Will Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who voted against the deal the first time, speak up again and act? The JCPOA in 2015 should have been submitted to the Senate as a treaty, being the most consequential American foreign-policy agreement of the 21st century.
According to an article in Foreign Policy by Daniel Kutzer, Aaron Miller and Steven Simon, “Little constituency exists in Washington for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on precisely the same terms as before. Republicans and even some crucial Democrats oppose it.” If that is true, then the president is bound by law to send any updates or changes to Congress for review.
I received a request from a reader about what voters should “ask for” from Congress. First, don’t be fooled by rhetoric that claims we are all on the same page, agreeing that Iran should never get a nuclear weapon. That does not mean and is not the same as improving the JCPOA now. When Brett McGurk, Biden’s national security council coordinator for the Middle East, said this week concerning the United States and Israel’s goals regarding Iran, “there is no disagreement. … Iran can never get a nuclear weapon, period,” that is political doublespeak. It does not address that the JCPOA, which the administration has vowed to return to, still allows Iran to develop an industrial-size nuclear program in less than 10 years when its sunset provisions fully kick in.
The answer for pro-Israel Americans is to let the Democratic Majority for Israel, the Jewish Democratic Council and their state legislators know the JCPOA’s weaknesses are your No. 1 foreign-policy concern. Let them know you expect Biden to keep his word to strengthen and lengthen the deal, but to do it before rejoining a flawed JCPOA. And you want the Senate to be able to weigh in and review the modifications. Let them know that rhetoric alone without a fundamental change of the sunset provisions is not enough. The handwriting is already on the wall for a return to the old JCPOA. Now is the time to speak up.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”