Members of US Congress urge Biden to make 'comprehensive' deal with Iran

Total of 70 Democrat and 70 Republican House members voiced 'bipartisan consensus' in seeking agreement that addresses whole range of threats from Tehran

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08: The exterior of the U.S. Capitol building is seen at sunrise on February 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate is scheduled to begin the second impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald J. Trump on February 9.   Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by Sarah Silbiger / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

One hundred and forty US House representatives called on the Biden administration to come to a "comprehensive" deal with Iran in a bipartisan effort.

The letter, sent to US Secretary of State Tony Blinken, was signed by 140 members of the House – 70 Democrat and 70 Republican – on Tuesday and said there was "bipartisan consensus" behind seeking an agreement with Iran that addresses a whole range of threats by Tehran.

The letter, first reported by ABC, is the largest bipartisan push on Iran since US President Joe Biden took office in January.

The two-page missive urged Mr Blinken to seek an "agreement or set of agreements with Iran that are comprehensive in nature to address the full range of threats that Iran poses to the region."

It mentions Iran’s other destabilising activities besides the nuclear programme that were not addressed under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was agreed to by Barack Obama in 2015 and that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.

“Since the JCPOA entered into force, Iran has continued to test ballistic missile technology that could potentially be applied to nuclear capable missiles, funded and supported terrorism throughout the Middle East, and engaged in cyber attacks to disrupt the global economy,” the letter said.

“We call upon the administration to address these actions by Iran, de-escalate tension in these conflicts, and ensure the security of all nations in the region.”

The House members support engagement with Iran but said it must be coupled with sanctions.

“Three core tenets – their nuclear programme, their ballistic missile programme, and their funding of terrorism – must be addressed from the outset,” it says.

“Iran’s malign behaviour throughout the Middle East must be addressed.”

Representatives Anthony Brown, a Democrat, and Republican Michael Waltz led the effort and garnered signatories from members across the foreign policy spectrum. Those include House Democratic caucus chairman, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, and House Republican whip Steve Scalise.

Experts who follow the nuclear stalemate with Iran saw the letter as an expression of how much has changed since the US signed the deal in 2015.

"Since 2015, the public and political perception of Iran has changed from being open to using nuclear talks as a way to build trust for wider issues, to now wrapping nuclear talks up into these other controversial policies Iran has, like its proxies and ballistic missile programme," Ryan Bohl, a Middle East expert at Stratfor, told The National. Mr Bohl saw a larger problem of deepening distrust, six years after the nuclear deal.

"The Iranians do not think the US can be trusted to stick to deals it makes, and the US does not think narrower deals will necessarily lead to a change in Iran's overall behaviour and an improvement in the overall security environment of the Middle East." Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, said the letter "is an example that there is more [US] bipartisanship than meets the eye on Iran". "The Biden administration's Iran policy won't be durable unless it has support from both Democrats and Republicans, and re-entering the [deal] of 2015 without preconditions risks upending that willingness to work across party lines," Mr Brodsky told The National. He saw a durable agreement as one that takes Congress's evolving views on the issue and does not race through artificial deadlines set by Iran.

“This isn't just an agreement between Tehran and Joe Biden; it’s with the United States, and therefore investing in the legwork to generate a consensus is a wise strategy [by the Biden team],” he said.

But others such as Dalia Dassa Kaye, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, believes focusing on a comprehensive deal with Iran and not simply its nuclear programme is unrealistic and bound to fail.

"Unfortunately, holding the [deal] hostage to these regional issues is unrealistic and will likely lead to the worst of all worlds — an advancing Iranian nuclear programme and more destabilising regional actions," Ms Kaye said. Iran has repeatedly voiced its objection to including regional issues in any nuclear talks.

The Biden administration has been seeking a return to negotiations on the nuclear programme with Iran but has not committed to including other aspects of Tehran’s controversial behaviour in the deal.

Mr Blinken has signalled that Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA has to precede any lifting of sanctions. At the same time, the new administration has shown willingness to include Iran in talks that involve Afghanistan, and has removed the terrorist designation of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

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