Booker, Gabbard, Klobuchar Portray Obama’s Iran Nuclear Deal as Imperfect

By Patrick Goodenough | June 26, 2019 | 11:38pm EDT
Sen. Cory Booker makes a point during Wednesday night’s debate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

( – Several of the Democrats running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination gave a less than resounding endorsement during Wednesday night’s NBC News debate for President Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, characterizing it as imperfect.

The Obama administration touted the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as one of its foremost foreign policy accomplishments. On withdrawing from it 13 months ago, President Trump called it “a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever [have] been made.”

Asked by moderator Lester Holt how many of them as president would sign on to the deal “as it was originally negotiated,” all but Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) initially raised their hands.

Booker said it was a mistake for Trump to have withdrawn from the JCPOA, which he said “gave us transparency into their nuclear program and pushed back a nuclear breakout ten, twenty years.”

But he then raised the prospect of securing “a better deal.”

‘We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal, but I’m not going to have a primary platform to say, unilaterally, I’m going to rejoin that deal. Because when I’m president of the United States I’m going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region, and make sure that, if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I’m going to do it.”

Asked whether the JCPOA was “a good deal,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) replied, “It was imperfect, but it was a good deal for that moment.”

“I would have worked to get longer sunset periods, and that’s something we could negotiate, ah, to get back in the deal.”

(The deal’s so-called “sunset” provisions saw various restrictions placed on Iran’s uranium-enrichment activity fall away eight, 10 and 15 years after the agreement took effect.)

Klobuchar said Trump has made America “less safe than we were when he became president,” and that as president she would “negotiate us back into that agreement.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during the debate. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), asked whether she would insist that a nuclear deal with Iran cover its support for Hezbollah, began by recalling her combat experience in Iran, the loss of U.S. lives there, and saying that a war with Iran would be far more devastating.

“We need to get back into the Iran nuclear agreement, and we need to negotiate how we can improve it,” she said. “It was an imperfect deal. There are issues like their missile develop – their missile development that needs to be addressed. We can do both simultaneously, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and preventing us from going to war.”

Issues like Iran’s ballistic missile development and support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups were deliberately left off the table during the negotiations that produced the JCPOA in 2015.

At Iran’s insistence – and with Moscow’s support – the Obama administration and its negotiating partners agreed to set them aside, for fear of jeopardizing chances for a deal on its nuclear programs.

The administration argued that although Iran’s support for terror and other troubling activity were a serious concern, they had to be kept separate from the nuclear talks, where the goal was to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran that would be even more dangerous than it was already.

Following that concession, the administration also allowed the U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined the JCPOA, once again at Iran’s insistence, to include non-binding language relating to ongoing missile activity.

Trump administration officials have described that approach as a mistake, contending that the deal had only emboldened the regime, while providing it with more funds to spend on malign activity in the region.

Reacting to the Democratic 2020 candidates’ comments on Iran, the Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted, “Have these Democrats seen the credible news stories about Iran building terror networks all over the world, using the money Obama gave them in the nuke deal? Iran was always going to break any deal. They took the money and continued destabilizing the region.”

Also taking the opportunity to weigh in was Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders – who will be taking part in Thursday’s debate – who evidently disagreed with Booker’s reference to leveraging a better deal:

“Using US violation of the JCPOA as ‘leverage’ for getting a better deal would create a really dangerous precedent for future nonproliferation agreements,” he tweeted.

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