0940 GMT August 22, 2019
While President Trump has escalated pressure on Iran, even coming close to launching a military strike, most Americans want the United States to reduce tensions and return to the 2015 nuclear agreement from which Trump withdrew, according to a new poll by the Center for American Progress.
The leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination are on that wavelength. Most would rejoin the deal provided that Iran resumed full compliance, although there were variances in how the candidates would go about it, according to questions I sent to the candidates who rated at least 2 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average — former Vice President Joe Biden; Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.; and the former House member Beto O’Rourke, The New York Times reported.
All the candidates said that by breaking the deal. Trump had damaged American interests and credibility, and had given Iran, which had been in full compliance, reason to inch back into nuclear activities the deal had prohibited.
“Whatever its imperfections, this was perhaps as close to a true ‘art of the deal’ as it gets” said Buttigieg.
Booker was the only one to acknowledge that despite the difficulty it took to reach the agreement before tensions were heightened by Trump, the deal would have to be updated.
“We cannot turn back the clock and pretend the damage that President Trump has caused over the last three years hasn’t happened,” he said. “The 2015 deal was premised on continued negotiations with the Iranians so that we could work toward a longer-term solution. We will have had four years wasted under Trump."
Not only has Trump ruptured any trust the Iranians had that the United States will honor its commitments, but Iran has resumed some activities because of the turmoil Trump has created, and sunset clauses for some restrictions are getting closer.
“I would rejoin the agreement and work with our allies to strengthen and extend it,” Biden said in a July address on foreign policy.
“Diplomacy, the only viable way”
Returning to the nuclear deal is “the beginning of the job, not the end,” said Warren, who advocates a follow-on agreement and believes that “we have time and leverage, and if we are smart about how we use them, diplomacy can be successful.”
She said that if Iran does not return to compliance with the terms of the existing agreement, “I will pursue strong and principled diplomacy to negotiate both the United States and Iran back into a deal.”
Diplomacy, she said, “is the only viable way to manage this issue — there is no military solution.”
Sanders said that to reach an agreement that would demand more of Iran, the United States would have to offer additional sanctions relief and incentives, and “it will have to acknowledge that Iran is not the only problematic actor in the Middle East.”
Admittedly, it could be hard to persuade Iran, or the Europeans, that anything the United States agrees to will stick this time. “It starts with making sure that our foreign policy is grounded in a real durable political consensus,” Sanders said.
Many of the Democrats said they were open to direct contact with Iran’s leaders, but all left the circumstances vague. Sanders said he would meet with President Hassan Rouhani or Leader [Ayatollah Seyyed] Ali Khamenei if that was the best way toward an agreement, while Booker stressed the need to first establish “clear goals” and a “demonstrated commitment to good faith negotiations.”
Warren described summits as a tool that must be part of a “clear strategy,” while Buttigieg said he would meet the Iranian president “under the right conditions.”
O’Rourke did not reply to this question, nor did Ms. Harris, whose responses to the questions were very brief. Biden’s campaign did not answer the questions at all. His address last month was his most substantive discussion of foreign policy, but it did not address whether Biden would meet with the Iranian leaders.
Iranian and European officials met in Vienna last Sunday in an effort to salvage the nuclear deal that has been unraveling under the weight of sanctions reimposed after the US withdrew. And on Wednesday, the United States imposed sanctions on the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, a move that nearly certainly will make it harder to engage in diplomacy with Tehran. The situation could be quite different by the time of the election.
It seems clear, though, that Trump’s hard-line stance is not popular among voters, especially Democrats and independents, who would like to avoid another military conflict. Democratic candidates need to persuade them that they have a better solution.
“We didn’t develop the deal as a favor to Iran,” Buttigieg said. “We did it because it was in our national security interest.”
The New York Times
*Carol Giacomo is a member of the editorial board of the New York Times.