Senior Biden administration officials recently briefed senators from both parties on talks with Iran, who said they doubted Tehran would agree to any new deal that would limit its development of nuclear weapons.
The government has put forward a proposal, but Iran has shown little willingness to re-establish the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which imposes major restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, lawmakers said.
Former President Trump unilaterally pulled the United States out of the 2015 agreement, one of President Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievements.
Biden officials said in January they were on the cusp of restoring the deal, but warned at the time that it would depend on Tehran’s acceptance.
Four months later, Iran has still not shown any serious interest in accepting the offer from the United States and its European allies, meaning one of President Biden’s top foreign policy priorities remains up in the air.
“I’m not optimistic that there will be a deal like this. The administration thinks it makes sense strategically to keep the offer, but I don’t see a way forward. That’s my opinion,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) told Hill.
Accepting a new deal is a divisive proposal within Iran’s political establishment, which makes reviving the JCPOA difficult, Menendez said.
“I think there is conflict within Iran, so there is no clear path forward,” he said.
“You just don’t know what the Iranians are thinking,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
“My guess is that it is not clear whether the Iranians want a deal. There are some divisions within Iran,” he said. “The U.S. made a proposal. The ball is really on the Iranian court.”
A senior Republican senator who appeared on the administration’s foreign relations panel on Wednesday at a negotiating briefing said the prospect of a deal was “not encouraging.”
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), a senior Republican on foreign relations, said he didn’t know what happened when the talks began, but had an update now.
“I do know where the negotiations stand, and they should have ended. They assured us that if there is no deal, it will end in February,” he said, referring to some senators who felt that administration officials had assured that there would be no Negotiations dragged on with Iranian support.
Several senators said there were signs that Iran did not want to cooperate with Western allies by allowing monitoring of its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, Iran shut down two surveillance cameras used by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its nuclear facilities.
The United States, Britain, Germany and France submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations earlier this month criticizing Iran for not explaining why trace amounts of uranium were found at undeclared nuclear facilities.
A senator who requested anonymity to discuss the talks said Iran’s request for the government to drop the designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist group as part of any new nuclear deal was an “unreasonable demand” on the government.
“It’s very unlikely that they will reach a deal without giving up,” the lawmaker said of Iran’s demands.
The Biden administration has so far rejected the request.
The senator also mentioned the trouble of shutting down UN surveillance cameras.
“The government has publicly stated that they are still willing to negotiate JCPOA 2.0, but the actions of the Iranian regime are making it harder and harder every day,” the lawmaker said. “I don’t think a deal is imminent.”
Some foreign policy experts argue that Iran does not need sanctions relief as urgently as it did during the Obama administration, because it earns a lot of money from oil exports.
Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi said last month that Iran’s oil exports have doubled since August.
Iran’s central bank reported in February that Iran’s oil sales had reached $18.6 billion in the first half of the year, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a subsequent embargo on Russian oil exports sent prices soaring.
“The problem is Iran’s ballpark,” said Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow specializing in foreign policy and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
She said the government had “dropped a lot” of concessions to get Iran to agree to the new JCPOA, but so far without success.
“The Iranians are showing no signs of changing,” she said. “They are currently exporting a lot of oil.
“Also, they are doing illegal business with the Russians, which makes some money for them,” she added. “From their point of view, the geopolitical environment will be favorable for Iran and their entire economic concept of resistance. They will be part of a Chinese and Russian network that will be able to do business together.”
The United States announced last month that it would impose sanctions on oil smuggling networks backed by senior Russian government officials and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.
Senators sent a strong signal to the administration during talks with Iran in early May, when a bipartisan majority voted in favor of a motion sponsored by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that would bar the president from eliminating Islam Designation of a foreign terrorist organization by the Revolutionary Party. Guard.
Lankford said the motion was designed to send a message to the Senate that “we do not want the United States to reach a nuclear deal with Iran that ignores Iran’s past behavior and current intentions.”
Sixteen Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), joined Republicans in voting for the measure.