Advocacy, Middle East, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts

Progressive groups press Biden on Iran deal as tensions mount

Thirty-two progressive groups wrote to President Joe Biden today to fulfill a key electoral promise and quickly rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran as escalating tensions in the region threaten to derail talks before they even start.

The letter was sent on the same day that a US contractor died of a heart attack during a rocket barrage against an Iraqi military base housing US, Iraqi and coalition troops. Biden said his administration was trying to ascertain who was responsible for the attack, which came a week after the US bombed Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria in response to rocket attacks on American forces in the region over the past few weeks.

“The longer the elements of ‘maximum pressure’ remain in effect, the more it will continue to embolden hardliners and make US-Iran diplomacy more difficult,” states the letter, whose signatories include Win Without War, J Street and the Open Society Foundations. “The recent escalation in military activity
between the United States and reported Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq only shows how urgently needed a new course of action is.”

“We’re identifying who is responsible, and we’ll make judgments from that point,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

Progressive groups that back the deal have taken solace from recent White House moves, which include accepting an invitation from European powers to join talks on the deal and the appointment of Robert Malley as special envoy to Iran. But they insist the new administration needs to rethink its demand that Iran comply with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) before sanctions are lifted, which led Tehran to reject the European invitation late last month.

“We support your policy of ‘compliance for compliance,” but the fact of the matter is that the United States was the first to violate the deal [when President Donald Trump pulled out in 2018],” they wrote. “It is therefore reasonable to expect the United States to at the very least take concurrent steps with Iran to
rejoin it.”

The letter goes on to argue that most Democrats are united behind re-entering the deal while its opponents will not budge.

Stephen Miles, the executive director of Win Without War, said the escalating violence is reason for more diplomacy, not less.

“When the deal was in place and the US and Iran were firmly on the path of diplomatic negotiations, those sorts of incidents had a pathway to resolution,” he said in an interview with Foreign Lobby Report. “It’s the reason why the longer this remains unresolved, the more dangerous and worse off we are.”

He added that the clock is ticking before June elections that will see the departure of President Hassan Rouhani, who negotiated the deal but is barred from running for a third term.

Miles said that despite opposition to the deal, the violence in the region is a reminder of the severity of the situation.

“There’s somewhat of a window,” Miles said. “It’s only going to get harder the more time that goes by.”

While pro-deal advocates have been making the most noise in recent weeks, their opponents are also ramping up the pressure.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have all expressed concerns, and Israeli media report that Israeli and Saudi officials have held several calls to discuss the United States’ possible re-entry into the deal.

Meanwhile domestic groups such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, which spent $160,000 on lobbying last year, “strongly opposes” such a policy, arguing that it “offers concessions to Iran without addressing the problems” with the 2015 Iran deal, which notably does not cover Iran’s ballistic missile program.

“By rejoining the JCPOA and lifting the sanctions the Trump administration imposed,” the RJC said in a Feb. 22 statement, “the Biden administration would forfeit the only leverage the US has to compel Iran to negotiate such a deal.”

In a sign of the growing ties between hawkish pro-Israel groups and the Arab Gulf states opposed to Iran, the RJC’s national chairman, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), is also a lead lobbyist for the Saudi Embassy in Washington via Hogan Lovells

And just today the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), an influential pro-Israel think tank, published a 24-page report that makes the case against returning to the JCPOA.

“In essence, such a deal would conform entirely to Iran’s position that it need adhere only to the narrow letter of the JCPOA while the United States must comply with the much broader spirit of the agreement,” the JINSA report argues. “The only way to preclude such an unacceptable outcome for the United States would be for the Biden administration to recognize the impossibility of its goal of a return to the JCPOA and to embrace instead greater pressure to
truly, as Biden has pledged, prevent a nuclear Iran.”