EghtesadOnline: Most of the Democrats running for president are vowing to put the United States back in the Iran nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump withdrew from nearly a year ago.
“Our intelligence community told us again and again: The #IranDeal was working to [ensure Iran’s nuclear program will remain peaceful]. If Iran continues to abide by the terms of the deal, you bet I will support returning to it,” Senator Elizabeth Warren recently tweeted.
Warren, whose campaign pointed to the February tweet when contacted by The Hill, backed the Iran deal in a Senate vote like several other Democratic senators running for president.
Trump angered US allies in Europe after he broke from the 2015 deal, arguing the pact was poorly negotiated by the Obama administration, Financial Tribune reported.
“This was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” Trump claimed while announcing his decision in May 2018. Former president, Barack Obama, in a rare response to Trump, said his successor’s decision would make the world less safe and war more likely.
Hoping to further dial up pressure on Iran, Trump last Monday announced he would not renew sanctions waivers that allowed eight foreign governments to continue buying Iranian oil.
It is not surprising that Democrats running for president would oppose Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Iran deal.
But the agreement itself was controversial and Democrats were not totally united in backing it.
While some Democrats are attaching qualifiers to their support for the deal, they are all indicating they would seek to put the US back into the agreement.
Penchant for Isolationism
And they are casting Trump’s decision to withdraw as a textbook case of his penchant for isolationism that they argue is damaging to US interests.
An aide to Senator Bernie Sanders told Al-Monitor last month that the candidate would “rejoin” the Iran deal “and would also be prepared to talk to Iran on a range of other issues, which is what Trump should’ve done instead of simply walking away”.
Sanders, considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, like Warren backed the deal in a 2015 vote in the Senate.
A spokesman for Senator Kamala Harris told Al-Monitor she supports reentering the deal “if the US could verify Iran is not cheating”. Harris was not serving in the senate when it voted on whether to block the deal from entering into force.
Former vice president, Joe Biden, who announced his run for the 2020 election on Thursday, served in the administration that negotiated the deal. A spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Three more senators in the race—Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar—all voted in favor of the deal.
During a recent stop at the University of Colorado, Klobuchar cited the Iran deal as she talked about getting back in step with US allies.
“Joining in these international agreements, and climate change is one of them, but the other is getting back in the nuclear agreement with Iran and allies—that would be one example of that,” Klobuchar said.
The 2015 debate over whether to support the deal was heated, with pro-Israel lobbyists pushing hard against it and some high-ranking Democrats such as Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer opposing it.
But things have changed since then, said Logan Bayroff, a spokesman for the progressive Jewish group J Street.
For starters, he said, international inspectors have repeatedly found Iran to be in compliance with key aspects of the agreement.
Second, Trump’s decision to withdraw can be framed by Democrats as one of several moves that have alienated allies and “pander to a far-right political base”, Bayroff said.
“We just think this is a clear slam-dunk policy position for a Democrat,” he said, citing a May 2018 Morning Consult survey that found 68% of Democrats supported the deal.
Experts say bringing the US back into the deal could be done simply and with executive action, and that it would not require votes in Congress.
J Street has been pushing an online petition calling on Democratic candidates to support reentering the deal.
Other groups that have been pressing Democrats to take a position include the National Iranian American Council, which released a paper in November saying a return to the Iran deal should be “central to the foreign policy platform of those seeking to challenge Trump in 2020”.
The Democratic National Committee adopted a resolution in February, calling on the US to rejoin the agreement.
Experts say part of the reason Iran continues to follow the deal is because Tehran hopes Trump is a one-term president and that his successor rejoins the agreement.
But the Trump administration is putting increased pressure on Iran, most recently by ending oil sanctions waivers. Trump also recently designated Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps a “foreign terrorist organization”.
US allies in Europe strongly opposed Trump’s decision to withdraw and they have been scrambling to save the pact.
As a workaround to Trump's sanctions, the European Union set up a financial mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran. But no transactions have gone through it, leading to mounting frustration from Tehran, said Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.
“Clearly, there are people in the administration and outside … who are trying to make it extremely difficult to return” to the deal, she said.
But Iran knows that if it leaves the deal it would be “falling into trap” set by the Trump administration, Slavin said, adding that Trump’s withdrawal and IRGC designation could likely be undone with executive action.
“I would expect that [returning to the deal] will be in the platform for the [Democratic National Convention], assuming Iran stays in the agreement,” she said. “Everything depends on Iran staying through the election. If it leaves the agreement, all bets are off.”