Senior US State nominee: bipartisan support needed for any new Iran deal

Victoria Nuland, nominee for under secretary of state for political affairs, expects a challenging relationship with Turkey

FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
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Victoria Nuland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the number-three position at the US State Department, stressed on Thursday the need for bipartisan support in any new nuclear deal with Iran.

The original Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) that Mr Biden's former boss Barack Obama supported in 2015 was deeply divisive, failing to win support in Congress and former president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

Ms Nuland, 59, a State Department foreign-policy veteran who has served under five previous presidents, called for greater co-operation across the political aisle for any new Iran negotiations.

“Whatever agreements we reach with Iran need to be supported in a bipartisan fashion not only on this [Senate] committee but across the Congress and across America,” Ms Nuland said at her confirmation hearing.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of 2015, the Biden administration is taking a different tone.

Ms Nuland said bipartisan support “will ensure [agreements] are binding across administrations and in the long term. We have to do our job and consult at every phase [with Congress],” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

She emphasised however the need to first return to the nuclear deal.

“As we sit here, Iran is enriching uranium again at 20 per cent … its breakout time is shortened. The first job to get them back in that box [JCPOA], and then together find what longer and stronger means.”

She pointed to Iran’s behaviour beyond its nuclear programme, mentioning Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

"We need to support Lebanon more strongly against malign Iranian influence,” Ms Nuland told senators.

Another priority she described was the US relationship with Turkey, calling it a "very challenging allied relationship that is going to require a whole lot more work".

Tension between Washington and Ankara are high over Turkey's acquisition of the S-400 Russian missile system, human rights and other issues.

“We have to be clear eyed and firm about it. It makes zero sense to me that a Nato ally is buying a new Russian weapons system," she said.

Ms Nuland called for continued pressure on Turkey in matters of “democracy and human rights inside the country, freedom of the press. We have got to get back on the same page together on Syria and Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh".

Ms Nuland said Nato members should address the “backsliding on our values among our allies. The US is far from perfect itself as we all know, but it’s very important we all recommit on that table to the things that make us strongest and particularly in the context of the rise of autocracy.”

The nominee called the events in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Azerbaijan with support from Turkey launched an offensive against Armenian forces last year, "absolutely tragic".

“We have to get prisoners released, we have to get humanitarian support, we have to ensure sovereignty and territorial integrity of Armenia and that it can make its own decisions.”

“If confirmed, I look forward to rolling up the sleeves, getting back to Ankara and having these conversations," she said.

Ms Nuland has 32 years of experience in the US foreign service and has worked under nine secretaries of state from both parties.

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