Biden Concedes Iran Nuclear Deal Could be Stronger

By Patrick Goodenough | July 12, 2019 | 4:17am EDT
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gives a foreign policy speech in NYC on Thursday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

( – Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said in a foreign policy speech Thursday he would as president re-enter the Iran nuclear deal “if Tehran returns to compliance.” But he implicitly conceded that the Obama-era agreement could be better, saying he would work with allies “to strengthen and extend it.”

The former vice president is not the first candidate in the crowded 2020 field to acknowledge that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – which the Obama-Biden administration touted as one of its most important foreign policy accomplishments – could be stronger.

During a debate last month Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) all gave the deal a less-than-wholehearted endorsement.

Speaking at The Graduate Center at CUNY in New York, Biden said the U.S. could not be a credible voice on nonproliferation “while abandoning the very deals we had negotiated.”

He accused President Trump – who withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018 – of making the dangers of nuclear proliferation “and even the use of nuclear weapons more likely, not less.”

“The historic Iran nuclear deal that we negotiated blocked Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, with inspectors on the ground, international inspectors confirming that the agreement was being kept,” he said.

“Yet Trump cast it aside, prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program, become more provocative, raising the risk of another disastrous war in the region,” Biden continued.

“If Tehran returns to compliance with the deal, I would rejoin the agreement, and work with our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s destabilizing activities – which under the agreement we were allowed to do, we had partners to do with us.”

A factsheet released by his campaign to accompany the speech said that Biden would use “hard-nosed diplomacy and support from our allies to strengthen and extend” the nuclear deal.

In a June 26 NBC News debate, Gabbard described the JCPOA as “imperfect” and said “we need to negotiate how we can improve it,” while Booker spoke of the prospect of securing “a better deal.”

Klobuchar also called the JCPOA “imperfect,” although “a good deal for that moment.” She said as president she would work to negotiate for longer “sunset periods” – a reference to the fact the deal allowed for various restrictions on Iran’s uranium-enrichment activity to fall away eight, 10 and 15 years after the agreement took effect. (Iran has now itself started moving away from some of those restrictions.)

‘Inspectors on the ground’

In referring to “inspectors on the ground” Biden did not mention that the Iranian regime repeatedly made clear it would not admit International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to military sites.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in 2016, with Secretary of State John Kerry, the lead U.S. negotiator in the talks that produced the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

During the one determinative military site “visit” that was allowed, at the Parchin military base in the fall of 2015, the IAEA allowed the Iranians themselves to collect environmental samples while IAEA inspectors were not physically present.

In April last year the Israeli government revealed that it had surreptitiously obtained, from a storage facility in Tehran, a massive archive of documents and CDs relating to Iran’s nuclear program.

(Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed their authenticity and said the “nuclear archive” contained information not known before.)

Subsequent independent expert analysis of some of the Iranian documents found apparent gaps in the IAEA’s “safeguards” reporting on Iran, including the existence at Parchin of a “major,” previously-unidentified site, thought most likely to have served as “a production-scale facility to produce uranium metal components for nuclear weapons.”

Last September Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu publicly revealed the existence of a warehouse in Tehran which he said contained radioactive material and equipment related to a nuclear program. He criticized the IAEA for failing to inspect the site after being tipped off about it by Israel months earlier.

Netanyahu also said the Iranians had been working to empty the warehouse since Israel revealed the “nuclear archive,” removing material including undeclared enriched uranium.

Iran denied the claims, saying the building was a carpet-cleaning facility.

Two months later, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published commercial satellite imagery which it said corroborated the location of the warehouse.

The IAEA still did not inspect it.

In February or March this year the IAEA finally visited the warehouse and took samples, prompting the ISIS to express the hope the action had not come “too little, too late.”

On Thursday, an Israeli television news channel, citing Israeli officials, said that samples which the IAEA took from the warehouse earlier this year did indeed point to the previous presence there of radioactive material. The report said the IAEA was preparing a report on the matter.

ISIS, tweeting Thursday in response to that report, recalled the IAEA’s tardiness in inspecting the site.

“By not acting more quickly, the IAEA lost a golden opportunity to make more progress than it could be on the fundamental question of whether Iran has been hiding equipment and materiel for a nuclear weapons program that it can draw on at a later date,” the institute said.

ISIS says there are a number of other sites whose existence was revealed by the nuclear archive which the IAEA still needs to visit, but has yet to do so.

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