By Paul Bass
Chris Murphy took a side Wednesday night, Dec. 16 – in favor of the Biden administration resuming the Iran nuclear deal as soon as possible upon taking office. Murphy took that position during a conversation with a group pushing that same view: J Street.
The Connecticut U.S. senator talked foreign policy at a Zoom “Chanukah party” held by the Connecticut chapter of the group, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy alternative for liberal American Jews. Fifty-five people “attended” the party.
Murphy and J Street have been closely aligned throughout Murphy’s career in Washington. The group was influential during the Obama administration, then in exile during the Trump years. As the group prepares to regain influence, it invited Murphy, an influential voice on foreign affairs in Washington, to chat with J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami at Wednesday night’s Zoom party.
Ben-Ami began by asking Murphy his position in a current debate about how Biden should approach the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal .
The Obama-Biden administration struck the deal. The Trump administration pulled out of it; Iran resumed work on developing its nuclear capability while the Trump administration levied sanctions on the nation. Biden has been expected to swiftly cancel sanctions and resume abiding by the terms of the original deal in return for Iran doing the same.
Republicans and some Democrats have argued that Biden should not rush. Instead, they argue, Biden should use leverage he’ll inherit from Trump to renegotiate the deal on better terms for the U.S., including limits on Iran’s ballistic missiles and on support for the Palestinian group Hamas. The New York Times’ Brett Stephens and Thomas Friedman also make that argument.
“I believe the Biden administration should on day one declare its intention to reenter the JCPOA and begin the process of getting back into compliance,” Murphy told Ben-Ami, echoing J Street’s position. “I don’t think that will easy. But our [European] partners are ready to back us up.”
Murphy argued that the experience of the Trump administration tested the leverage argument – and showed that sanctions didn’t lead Iran to step back from Hamas or come to the table on ballistic missiles.
“We had four years to test that theory. The Trump administration turned up sanctions hotter than they existed before the JCPOA,” Murphy argued. “The Iranians didn’t even come to the negotiating table. They restarted their nuclear program. It was a spectacular failure. The smart way forward is to take the nuclear weapons issue off the table so you can then negotiate the other issues.”
Murphy also said he “agree[s] 100 percent” with J Street that Biden should “on day one” lift Trump’s suspension of aid to Palestinian refugees. He called for Biden to reexamine the Trump administration’s commitment to “sell a dizzying array of arms” to the United Arab Emirates in return for striking a peace agreement with Israel. Those weapons could provoke fighting in the Middle East or end up in the hands of “really bad actors in the region,” Murphy argued.
This article is published with permission of The New Haven Independent (newhavenindepenent.com) where it first appeared.
Main Photo: Sen. Murphy at Wednesday evening’s J Street Chanukah event.