Nine out of ten Democrats running for US President pledged on Wednesday to return to the Iran nuclear deal if they defeat Donald Trump.
In the first debate of the 2020 election season, the ten candidates who gathered in Miami offered a rebuke and reversal of Mr Trump’s policies on immigration, health care, climate change and the economy. On the question of the recent escalating tensions with Iran, the majority of those on stage agreed that they would return to the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA).
Candidates Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Bill de Blasio, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, and John Delaney all raised their hands when asked if they would return to the deal that Mr Trump withdrew from in May 2018.
Under the deal, agreed in 2015 between the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany, Iran was to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspections in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The deal has been put in jeopardy by the US withdrawal, and the imposition of further sanctions this week has led Iran to threaten to breach its uranium enrichment limits.
Senator Cory Booker was the only nominee on stage to refrain from making such a pledge. He said he would instead take the opportunity to “elevate a better deal”.
Senator Klobuchar called the deal, signed by former President Barack Obama, “imperfect but a good deal for that period”. She said she would improve the sunset clause – a provision that means a law will terminate after a fixed period — through negotiation, but criticised Mr Trump for his inability to bring forth a better deal.
“We can’t conduct our foreign policy in a bathrobe at 5am in the morning,” she said, in a dig at Mr Trump, arguing that US failures have given unlimited leverage to China and Russia.
Congresswoman Gabbard accused Mr Trump and his “chicken hawk cabinet” of taking the US “to the brink of war with Iran”.
“I served in the Iraq war, which took over 4,000 of my brothers’ and sisters’ lives … a war with Iran would be far more devastating and costly than the Iraq war,” she said.
Ms Gabbard went on to give her support for US plans to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying the Taliban “didn’t attack us on 9/11 – Al Qaeda did”. But Congressman Ryan disagreed, saying the US should keep its presence to counter the Taliban, which offered a safe haven to Al Qaeda in 2001.
When asked what the biggest national security threat currently is, the candidates’ answers varied between China, climate change, nuclear proliferation, tension in the Middle East and Russia.
Both Mr Booker and Mr O’Rourke gave some answers in Spanish during the debate to appeal to Latino voters. Mr Booker said in Spanish that the US President “demonised immigrants”.
Mr Castro, the only Latino candidate in the Democratic race, referenced the viral image of El Salvador migrants Óscar Martínez and his daughter Valeria, who were found drowned while attempting to cross the US border, saying that it is “heartbreaking”.
Ms Warren, who is surging in the polls, was seen as the most dominant in the first half of the debate. But her ardent rivals, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and six others, will face off on a separate debate stage in Detroit on Thursday.
Mr Trump is on his way to Osaka, Japan, to participate in the G20 meeting. He attacked the first debate, calling it “boring”, and attacked the TV channels for a short technical fault.
“MSNBC and NBC should be ashamed of themselves for having such a horrible technical breakdown in the middle of the debate. Truly unprofessional and only worthy of a FAKE NEWS Organization, which they are!” he tweeted.
The voting in the Democratic primaries starts in Iowa in February before a general election in November next year. Former Vice President Biden is currently the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, with both Ms Warren and Mr Sanders competing for the second place.