(CNSNews.com) – As the House Foreign Affairs meeting held its first hearing on Iran at a time of significant tensions in the region, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wondered why the regime would possibly want to enter into a new agreement with the U.S. after the actions taken by the administration against it.
She cited President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, the restoration of U.S. sanctions resulting from that decision, the killing of Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani, and Trump’s warning last week that Iranian cultural sites could be targeted, if Iran again attacks Americans or American assets.
“Why would Iran – after we unilaterally left the JCPOA, assassinated Soleimani, destroyed their economy with our sanctions, threatened to bomb their cultural sites – why would they be willing to enter into a better deal with us at this moment?” Omar asked a panel of expert witnesses.
Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass said he could envisage the regime considering negotiations for a new agreement if it were offered “significant” sanctions relief.
“Governing is about choices,” he told Omar. “The economic sanctions are having a significant toll. They could conceivably threaten the viability of the government and the revolution.”
“So I would think that if Iran is offered significant sanctions relief, that might be something that they would countenance.”
Another member of the panel, former deputy national security advisor in the Obama administration, Avril Haines, said she continues to hope there is the opportunity for negotiations and diplomacy but could not foresee it under the current administration.
“I think that it is very unlikely that we are going to see the Trump administration capable of bringing the Iranians to the table and negotiating a deal like that,” she said.
Omar said she hoped that “cooler heads prevail” and that the U.S. will pursue diplomacy.
“What is happening right now and the ways that things have escalated, it’s not going to make us safer and it’s not going to alleviate the economic burdens that civilians of Iran are facing at the moment,” she said.
Haass also outlined what he thought a successor deal to the Obama-era JCPOA should look like, including “open-ended” restrictions on nuclear weapons-related activities.
“I don’t see why Iran should have the right to get close to developing a nuclear weapon in 50 years or 75 years,” he said. “So I would prefer open-ended efforts – or if not that, many decades.”
Haass said a deal should cover Iran’s ballistic missiles – the JCPOA did not – although he agreed that “other aspects of Iranian behavior in the region should be dealt with in other ways.”
A “grand bargain” covering all U.S. concerns relating to Iran was not realistic, he argued.
“In my experience, all-or-nothing diplomacy tends to yield nothing.”
Haass also said it would be important for any future agreement to be voted on by Congress.
The Iranian regime “would need to know that the next deal is not something that this or any president could unilaterally overturn. I would think they would want to have the confidence that it was truly embedded in the policy of the United States.”
During the negotiations that produced the JCPOA in 2015 the Obama-Biden administration and its British, French and German partners gave in to Tehran’s demands – which were backed by Russia and China – that its ballistic missiles not be on the table.
The administration stated by way of explanation that issues like Iran’s missiles or terror sponsorship should be off the agenda, since the nuclear weapons threat was the clear priority.
The deal itself included so-called “sunset” provisions, under which various restrictions placed on Iran’s uranium-enrichment and related activity would fall away eight, 10 and 15 years after the JCPOA took effect.
The Obama administration also deliberately avoided seeking a treaty with Iran, which would have required Senate advice and consent. “You can’t pass a treaty anymore,” then-Secretary of State John Kerry remarked at the time.
Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement ultimately took the form of an inter-governmental agreement that was not formally signed by any of the parties.
The only say Congress had in the matter came in the form of a “resolution of disapproval.” In a series of votes in 2015 Senate Democrats blocked attempts to advance it, with only four Democrats opposing the nuclear deal.
As he pledged to do while campaigning for the White House, Trump exited the JCPOA in mid-2018, paving the way for the restoration of U.S. sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.