Forty-nine of the 50 Republican senators have announced that they will not give their support to a new nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.
This opposition underscores the GOP’s opposition to the administration’s attempt to revive a 2015 accord amidst fears that multilateral nuclear talks may collapse.
The Republican senators pledged in a statement to do everything in their power to pull back from an agreement that does not eliminate Iran’s ability to constrain its ballistic missile program, “completely block” Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon, and “confront Iran’s support for terrorism.”
Democrats hold slim majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and are unlikely to turn against the Biden administration in sufficient enough numbers to stop a major initiative such as the Iran deal.
However, the Republican opposition ensures that Congress cannot adopt any nuclear agreement with Iran as a permanent measure. That would require a two-thirds vote in favor of it, which would render it vulnerable to the abandonment or cancellation by a future Republican president.
The United States has been negotiating indirectly with Iran in Vienna for months, intending to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehension Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA saw Iran scale down its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.
In 2018, former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal 2018. Washington has since been enforcing a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Iran. Tehran has ramped up its nuclear program in response to the withdrawal, including uranium enrichment.
Deal in limbo, talks paused
After a last-minute demand by Russia, efforts to clinch a new deal with Iran were left uncertain and in limbo. Russia, now at an impasse with the West over its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, has used its power position to pause talks for a time not yet determined.
Senate Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Senate Republican who did not sign the statement and the other 49 senators.
Paul explained his position in an email statement saying, “Condemning a deal that is not yet formulated is akin to condemning diplomacy itself, not a very thoughtful position.”
No congressional Republicans supported the 2015 nuclear agreement between the so-called “P5+1” countries, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the U.K., Russia, France, China, and the U.S. — plus Germany and Iran. A handful of Democrats also opposed the deal.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman explained that Biden administration officials believe that a deal is close at hand and “we would like all of the parties — including Russia, which has indicated it’s got some concerns — to bring this to close.”
Tensions between Iran and Washington have increased since Iran launched missiles that landed at the U.S. consulate in Erbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq.
“We are very concerned about what Iran is doing, but imagine these Iranians with a nuclear weapon,” emphasized Sherman. “We need to get that off the table to address their malign behavior in the Middle East, and we will do all of the above, but first we’ve got to get this deal. And it is not yet closed.”
The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act in 2015 gives Congress the right to review an agreement. However, lawmakers are unlikely to be able to outright kill a deal after failing to do so in 2015 when Republicans were in control of Congress.
An Iran foreign ministry spokesperson said that Washington must be decisive and wrap up a deal.
Victoria Nuland, U.S. Under Secretary of State, told the Senate last week that Russia was attempting to “up the ante” by tying the Iran negotiations with Moscow’s demands in Ukraine.
However, the U.S. is rejecting that. “We are not playing ‘Let’s make a deal,’” said Nuland at a Senate hearing.