Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the influential chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, slammed President Biden’s plans for reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Menendez said the administration was “clinging” to the deal for “nostalgia’s sake” in a rebuke to the US’s indirect negotiations with Iran. “At this point, we seriously have to ask what exactly are we trying to salvage?” he said.
“As someone who has followed Iran’s nuclear ambition for the better part of three decades, I am here today to raise concerns about the current round of negotiations over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” Menendez added.
The hawkish Democrat called on the Biden administration to increase the pressure on Iran and “vigorously” enforce sanctions. Menendez said the US should try a new strategy that involves “creative diplomatic initiatives, stricter sanctions enforcement, and a steely determination from Congress.”
Since the Trump administration reimposed crushing sanctions on Iran in 2018, the Islamic Republic’s economy has found a vital lifeline in oil sales to China and other countries that are not afraid of US sanctions. Menendez wants that trade to stop. “We must use our sanctions to crush the illicit, underground economy of Iranian oil shipments throughout the world,” he said.
Menendez’s comments reflect the fact that if Biden chooses to give Iran the necessary sanctions relief to revive the JCPOA, he will come under a lot of political pressure. Virtually every Republican and a handful of Democrats are opposed to the idea, making it possible that a majority in Congress would be against a JCPOA revival.