US: 'Small number' of issues block renewal of Iran nuclear accord
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated on Tuesday that only a few matters remain to be resolved before an agreement can be reached on renewing the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
"There are a small number of outstanding issues," Price told journalists, as he re-affirmed the importance of reviving the agreement, which the Biden administration believes will permanently block Iran's path to acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Critics complain, however, that it will not achieve that objective. Those critics include almost all of the 50 Republican senators in the 100-member US Senate.
On Monday, 49 of those senators announced their opposition to reviving the JCPOA. Their criticism was three-fold: 1) the JCPOA does not "completely block" Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon; 2) it does not limit Iran's ballistic missile program; 3) it does not "confront Iran's support for terrorism."
Despite their number, however, the senators are not in a position to block the renewal of the JCPOA as an executive agreement. However, their number does enable them to prevent the JCPOA from being adopted as a treaty.
A treaty would be binding on subsequent administrations. An executive agreement is not.
Price did not identify what issues remained to be resolved. It is, therefore, difficult to know how easy it will be to resolve them, even as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Fox News on Sunday, "I think [an agreement] is close."
Previously, Iran had insisted that the Biden administration guarantee that any renewal of the JCPOA could not be reversed in the future, as former President Donald Trump had done in 2018 when he pulled out of the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
But the Biden administration can provide no such guarantee because it cannot secure the necessary two-thirds Senate majority to secure the JCPOA as a treaty.
On Monday, as Iran's Tasnim News Agency reported, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabollahian, speaking of the renewal of the JCPOA, said that "the resolution of the remaining issues, which are red lines for Iran, is contingent on the will of the US side and its decision to stop wasting time."
Thus, both the US and Iran seem to agree that there are only a few remaining issues—but neither explains what they are, and each blames the other for not resolving them.
Russian Objections Overcome
One obstacle to the revival of the JCPOA was overcome on Tuesday, following the visit of Iran's Foreign Minister to Moscow.
With the imposition of far-reaching sanctions on Russia by the US and Europe, following its Feb. 24 assault on Ukraine, Moscow, last week, raised a new objection to reviving the JCPOA. It demanded a guarantee that the new sanctions would not interfere with its role in implementing the accord.
That role involves activities like removing Iranian uranium enriched above the small percentage (3.67) allowed under the JCPOA and cooperation with Iran on its civilian nuclear power plant.
The US did provide such assurances, as the Russian Foreign Minister announced on Tuesday in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart.
Why Does the US Ignore Other Aspects of Iranian Aggression?
Iran's missile strike on Erbil on Sunday has not diminished—in the least—the US desire to conclude a new nuclear deal with Iran.
When pressed on this and other aspects of Iran's malign behavior, the Biden administration responds that whatever Iran is doing now, it would be that much worse if Iran acquired nuclear weapons.
"If Iran were in possession of a nuclear weapon or if it were on the verge of possession of a nuclear weapon, it could act with far greater impunity," Price said on Tuesday, even as he noted various malign activities that Iran conducts: supports regional proxies; supports terrorist groups; engages in malicious cyber activity; and has an active ballistic missile program.
Thus, one point that divides the Biden administration from its critics is the efficacy of the JCPOA. The administration claims it will permanently prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; its critics claim it will not.
Moreover, critics point to the consequence of lifting sanctions and allowing Iran to sell oil without restraint.
"If Washington thinks Iran is hard to restrain now, just imagine what the future may look like, with more accurate weapons in Iran's arsenal and more cash, due to the JCPOA," Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies where he focuses on Iranian security and political issues, told Kurdistan 24.
Ben Taleblu noted Tehran's remarkable and dangerous confidence. Referring to Sunday's missile strike on Erbil, Ben Taleblu observed that in the lead-up to the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear deal, "Iranian officials spoke of restraining or limiting missile launches while negotiations were ongoing"—but that is not the case now.