WASHINGTON, DC – Members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations expressed concern Tuesday with the current United States foreign policy in Iran under the threat of a possible nuclear arms race. Signed under the Obama Administration, the Iran nuclear deal is still widely debated legislation between republicans and democrats.
US senators and two witnesses discussed Iran’s nuclear weaponry, their relationship with Russia, Syria, and the possibility of a nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Iran under the Iran nuclear deal, also referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Senators and witnesses went back and forth with some senators supporting the plan and others claiming it has not made considerable impact, citing the growing threats Iran poses to the U.S.
“Iran, along with its allies in Russia, has continued to prop up Assad at the cost of countless lives in Syria,” Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in his opening statement.
Throughout the hearing, Syria was referred to as one of the most complicated issues on the global scale. Witnesses argued that the civil war in Syria cannot be addressed without addressing Iran, one way being the Iran nuclear deal.
Corker said one of his concerns with the deal was that despite the implementation, the legislation would not significantly hold Iran accountable on an international level.
“One of my criticisms of the JCPOA was that it would become our de-facto Middle East policy and Iran would expand their destabilizing activities,” Corker said. “I think we are seeing a lot of that today.”
Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) supported the agreement. He said the agreement successfully authorized sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activity, and eventually gained traction on the international level when other countries joined the U.S. position.
“We were able to isolate Iran to a point where they felt it was in their interest to negotiate with us and our allies for a nuclear agreement,” Cardin said.
Cardin said that although he and Corker both opposed entering the Iran nuclear deal when it was voted on, he thinks it would be against the better interests of the U.S. to withdraw or engage in activity that could conflict with the deal. The Iran nuclear deal has been in force for 15 months.
China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K., the U.S., the European Union and Iran signed onto the agreement in July of 2015. President Obama and Secretary John Kerry said the deal was to ensure that Iran’s nuclear weapons and programs will be exclusively peaceful. Since the deal was reached, the U.S. and European Union lifted previous nuclear-related sanctions placed on Iran because of Iran meeting its nuclear agreements.
Cardin expressed concern over the changing circumstances with the change of administration, and how the president will propose to move forward with U.S. involvement in Iran.
“I am concerned about whether we have a coherent policy from the Trump Administration,” Cardin said. “I take a look at the skinny budget that they presented, and it would diminish the U.S. role globally rather than strengthening our ability to deal with issues that concern Iran.”
Witnesses Martin Indyk and Michael Singh told the committee why the JCPOA is vital, and U.S. involvement with Iran is necessary in the fight against ISIS and preventing further collaboration between Iran and Russia. Because of Iran’s allies and regional interests, everything is interconnected, Indyk said.
“I think we’re all familiar with the kind of danger Iran poses,” Indyk, Executive Vice President at the Brookings Institution, said.
Indyk said he rigorously supports the Iran nuclear deal because it provides the U.S. with time.
“Whatever the perceived shortcomings of the JCPOA, it has succeeded in creating a vital ten-year window in which the region is not threatened by Iranian nuclear capabilities and the nuclear arms race that they would inevitably trigger,” Indyk said in his testimony. “Without it, everything becomes more complicated.”
Singh, managing director at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued that within the Middle East, Iran poses the biggest threat to the U.S. because of their presence in Syria and rise of jihadist groups like ISIS.
“I don’t think we could successfully defeat ISIS without confronting Iran,” Singh said.
Several senators, including Marco Rubio (R-FL.) and Rand Paul (R-KY.), gave significant pushback to the witness’s support of the deal.
Paul shifted gears and questioned both witnesses regarding the religious dangers of Wahhabism, a branch of Islam sometimes linked to global terrorism, which he said is overlooked among those concerned only with Iran.
“We get fixated on Iran and we forget the danger of Wahhabism around the world,” Paul said.
Paul’s response opened Rubio’s remarks, where he agreed with Paul that the religious intolerance and hegemony of Iran spreads anti-western ideals, ultimately making western interference undesired and difficult to achieve.
The multi-dimensional issue was debated during the hearing without answering many questions. Although the committee met to talk about U.S. policy in Iran, countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Russia, Yemen, Syria, were key parts of the discussion. Cardin said this is what makes addressing U.S. involvement in Iran so complex.
“This is a continuing battle,” Cardin said in his closing remarks. “There is no easy way forward.”