Iran nuclear talks in Vienna have once again hit a roadblock. This time, they were derailed by Russia’s demand for sanctions relief in commercial dealings with Iran. All the while, Iran continues to develop its nuclear program, setting Israel and Arab countries on edge. Then, this past weekend, Iran sent ballistic missiles into Iraq, striking near a U.S. Consulate compound, highlighting the urgency of figuring out some way to deal with the dangerous Islamic regime.
The situation is complex and is made even more so by the lack of transparency regarding the new terms being considered regarding possible U.S. re-entry into the deal. In 2015, the permanent member countries of the United Nations Security Council — United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — plus Germany and the European Union, signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. As part of that deal, Iran agreed to various measures designed to curtail the development of its nuclear program and for inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure compliance. In exchange Iran received some sanctions relief.
But the deal faced significant criticism, with challengers arguing first that Iran could not be trusted to comply with its performance promises and that, in any event, parts of the deal would eventually expire, and second because JCPOA didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its funding of terrorist activities. In 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal. Since then, JCPOA has effectively collapsed.
President Joe Biden made joining an improved version of the deal one of his campaign promises. And for the past year, negotiators have been involved in slow-moving talks in Vienna seeking to achieve that result. Before this latest delay involving Russia, the agreement was reportedly approaching its final stages. But serious questions about the new terms have been raised. Rumors of significant financial concessions to Iran, wholesale lifting of terror designations for the Iran Revolutionary Guard and many of its individual leaders and limited restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development activity have emerged, casting a large cloud over public reaction to reports of a pending agreement. Since there has been no public disclosure of potential re-entry terms, no one knows for sure.
It’s also unclear whether Congress will have a say in approving the new terms. Some argue that if this is an expanded or new deal, Congress should review it. Others assert that if the U.S. is “simply” reentering the previous deal, Congress has already had its say. Those issues are probably what prompted a bipartisan group of 21 Congress members to send a letter to Biden last week, expressing concern about reports of U.S. concessions in the current negotiation process.
JCPOA is not a deal that should be built on rumors and whispers. Any proposed new terms should be made public, and Congress should weigh in on the agreement and its terms. If Congress approves the deal, so be it. But moving ahead without congressional input would be a mistake.