(CNSNews.com) – Former Sen. Joe Lieberman supported Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, but on Wednesday, he called the shift from President Obama to President Trump “enormously significant and hopeful” when it comes to Iran.
“Though I will say that I was a proud supporter of Secretary Clinton in the election last year, when it comes to the question of Iran, the change from President Obama to President Trump is an enormously significant and hopeful change,” he told a Nowruz (Persian new year) gathering on Capitol Hill.
Lieberman, the former running mate of Democrat Al Gore, said the Obama administration had supported a “bad” nuclear deal with Iran, refused to see Iranian violations, and sent then-Secretary of State John Kerry to urge leery European bankers to resume business with Iran when sanctions were eased.
“The change in the White House attitude, it gives us an important opportunity,” he said.
Lieberman told the event, sponsored by the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) and held in the Russell Senate Office Building,, that he perceived a return in Congress to a bipartisan response to the Iranian threat.
He said a long tradition of bipartisanship on the Iran question had “stopped for a moment” when Congress considered the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
“The divide was almost totally Republicans against the agreement, Democrats for it,” he recalled. “And I think that was for one reason only: That was that President Obama was so personally involved in it and made such personal appeals to Democratic members of the Senate.”
“But I think you’ll find and already have found that the bipartisan consensus about the threat that Iran represents has returned,” he said, “and there’s a real interest in focusing in on a regime in Iran and changing what exists now.”
Just four Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the JCPOA, which gave Iran tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for implementing steps which the Obama administration said would prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
They were Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Another participant in the Nowruz event, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) was not among those who voted against the JCPOA, although he said at the time he had “serious reservations” about the deal.
On Wednesday, Peters also stressed the importance of a bipartisan response to Tehran.
“There should be no daylight between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to standing up against the Iranian regime and demanding that there is accountability and demanding that that regime respect basic human rights and move to a democratic regime where the people of Iran actually have a say and actually have an opportunity to pursue their dreams and to live in the kind of freedom that every human being should,” he said.
“That has to be a Democratic and Republican issue,” Peters said. “We have to be united.”
In a strong show of such bipartisanship last December, the Senate voted 99-0 to renew the Iran Sanctions Act by ten years. (Obama declined to sign it, allowing it to become law without his signature.)
Senators are now understood to be mulling new sanctions legislation in response to ongoing launches of Iranian ballistic missiles.
After Iran carried out more such tests early this month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) indicated that the effort was moving ahead.
“These provocative tests are just the latest example of Iran’s dangerous actions that demand a coordinated, multi-faceted response from the United States,” he said. “The administration has already begun to push back in the way that we should, and I look forward to working with them as we prepare to introduce bipartisan legislation to deter Iran’s threatening behavior on all fronts.”
As reported earlier, the Obama administration allowed the wording of a U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined the JCPOA to be weakened in a way that has allowed Iran – and its ally Russia – to justify its missile activity.
Security Council resolution 2231, which passed unanimously in July 2015, “called upon” Iran not to carry out launches of missiles “designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.”
In contrast, an earlier resolution – overtaken and replaced by 2231 – had declared that Iran “shall not” undertake launches of missiles “capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”
Three days after the resolution was adopted, Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sparred with Menendez over the watered-down language.
Months later the weakened language compelled the State Department, which initially said reports of subsequent Iranian missile launches would be a “violation” of resolution 2231, to adjust its own stance several days later, and say only that the Iranian actions were “inconsistent with” the resolution.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif boasted to lawmakers in Teheran that he had spent seven months painstakingly negotiating the wording of the missile-related text in the resolution, depicting the outcome as a victory over Kerry and other JCPOA negotiating partners.
In his remarks at the OIAC Nowruz event Wednesday, Lieberman said the regime’s behavior had not improved as a result of the JCPOA, but had worsened.
“What are the words that come out of the mouths of the most influential leaders in Tehran? Not moderation, not respect for the United States. ‘Death to America! Death to America!’”
“And we may put our hands over our ears, those who support the [nuclear] agreement, and not want to hear that, not want to believe it, but trust me,” Lieberman said. “History is cluttered with the bodies of people who didn’t – dead bodies – who didn’t believe extreme things being said by tyrants in the world.”
Lieberman, a former Democratic and later independent senator from Connecticut, is chairman of United Against a Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan lobby group opposed to the JCPOA.