Foreign Policy

Obama’s Iran deal performs a giant function in Senate hearings for key biden picks

Two Obama administration veterans face a reckoning of their work on the Iranian nuclear deal this week as they search President Joe Biden’s defense and state departments for senior national security posts.

Wendy Sherman, Biden’s candidate for assistant secretary of state, and Colin Kahl, candidate for Pentagon’s top political official, face Senate confirmation hearings this week, which are expected to discuss their work in negotiating the 2015 Iran nuclear deal Be informed and Biden’s new approach to America’s greatest rival in the Middle East. Some Democratic lawmakers and former Obama officials have praised both decisions, saying they are well qualified for the jobs. However, Republicans are signaling their skepticism about the candidates and are increasing the stakes in a divided Senate where there is little room for error.

Both hearings for the former officials who previously served under President Barack Obama will be a test of whether Congress will get a seat at the table if Biden tries to resume talks with Iran. The leading Republicans in Congress have made it clear what they want to see in a new deal: address the Iranian ballistic missile and proxy group program, give Israel and Arab partners a voice in the talks, and avoid artificial deadlines to close a deal .

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged to consult closely with Congress and Israel, Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East, on Iran during his confirmation hearing in January.

Biden’s government said it was ready to re-enter the deal for the time being, including easing sanctions if Iran does the same, with the aim of preventing the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Officials have called the proposal “Compliance for Compliance”.

“If Iran resumes full compliance with the JCPOA, we will be ready to do the same and meet our obligations under the JCPOA,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said at a press conference Tuesday, referring to the joint comprehensive Action plan. the official name for the 2015 nuclear deal. Former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018.

Some on Capitol Hill see efforts to fuel new talks as a test of the Biden administration’s foreign policy commitments to non-partisanship, and they hope the president’s national security measures included under the 2015 agreement reflect perceived shortcomings.

“Biden should also reconsider his appointment to senior national security positions from former Obama administration officials who were directly involved in negotiating the original Iran deal, as well as those who supported it,” said Senator Jim Inhofe, Republican Supreme Leader on the Armed Forces Committee. wrote in the Foreign policy Last month. “If these candidates cannot demonstrate that they have learned from their past mistakes, their Senate verification process will be difficult – and rightly so.”

Proponents of the resumption of negotiations say TrumpThe so-called “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran failed as Tehran is now closer to producing a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump took office.

Kahl appears ready to face stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers who say they are concerned about his past support for the Iranian nuclear deal. In a statement last week, an Inhofe spokesman said the former Trump administration ally had “serious concerns about some of the political positions” held by Kahl in the past.

Kahl, a close advisor to Biden during the Obama administration, spent much of Trump’s years as a professor at Stanford University and has become an outspoken media and social media defender of the Iran deal. He also went to the sides of Foreign policy and other publications aimed at promoting high-level talks between the United States and Iran as Trump put more political, economic, and military pressure on Tehran.

Some question the motivations for Republican opposition to Kahl on Capitol Hill, especially since other architects of the Iran deal, such as newly minted Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA Director-designate Bill Burns, sailed through their respective confirmation hearings with little setback and few have questions about their support for the Atomic Pact.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with Colin,” said a former senior Trump administration official close to the Armed Forces Committee Foreign policy. “They wanted a scalp and for some reason they chose [him]. ”

Sherman faces skeptical Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but doesn’t seem to face the same setbacks as Kahl, according to Senate assistants familiar with the matter. “There is not as much concern for Sherman as concern for Kahl,” said one. “But their confirmation is not a closed deal.”

Sherman, an academic and diplomat, has been an integral part of Democratic foreign policy circles for decades and has held senior positions in the State Department under both Obama and President Bill Clinton. Under Clinton, she served as North Korea’s policy coordinator during negotiations on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Under Obama, Sherman was Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third-tier post in the ministry, and chief negotiator for the Iranian nuclear deal.

Sherman also has many supporters in the diplomatic world. A group of over 100 former senior diplomats sent a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday praising Sherman and demanding their swift endorsement.

“It is difficult to imagine a more qualified candidate for the secondary position in the State Department than Ambassador Sherman,” said the letter received from Foreign policy. “At the State Department, she is remembered as someone who has worked closely with his or her career workers, used her talents well, and looked after many. She has earned her loyalty and respect. “

Among those who signed the letter were James Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Iraq and Turkey and Trump’s former special envoy for Syria; former State Secretaries Paula Dobriansky and Thomas Shannon; and Marie Yovanovitch, a former US ambassador to Ukraine.

During the Senate hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Republican lawmakers are expected to brief Sherman on how much influence Congress will have on new nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“The Congressional buy-in will ensure that a future deal has the longevity to survive successive administrations,” wrote five senior Republican lawmakers, including Senator James Risch, senior Republican on the external relations committee, on Feb.26 Letter to Biden. “The Obama administration’s failure to achieve bipartisan consensus behind the JCPOA didomed the deal when a Republican became president,” they wrote.

“Our first task to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is permanently verifiable is to consult closely with our allies, partners and members of Congress,” said a State Department official. “And we’ve been doing that almost since day one.”

Several Senate assistants said some lawmakers have already decided whether to back Sherman, but several key Republican lawmakers are on the fence – holding their decision until they can question them during the hearing.

Some on the Democratic side see the opposition to Sherman less their qualifications than politics.

“There is no doubt that some Republicans stall at the sight of an opportunity to outstrip one another against the Biden government, especially when it comes to Iran,” said a Democratic adviser on condition of anonymity. “Being Anti-Biden is a launch pad for their work today, and someone like Wendy Sherman gives them the perfect opportunity to reach out to the MAGA base.”

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