After President Trump announced that the United States would exit the nuclear deal with Iran, several lawmakers were weighing in on what they thought of the decision.
Here’s a look at what some members of Congress and the Obama administration are saying.
Former President Barack Obama
There are few issues more important to the security of the United States than the potential spread of nuclear weapons, or the potential for even more destructive war in the Middle East. That’s why the United States negotiated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in the first place.
The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working – that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense. The JCPOA is in America’s interest – it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. And the JCPOA is a model for what diplomacy can accomplish – its inspections and verification regime is precisely what the United States should be working to put in place with North Korea. Indeed, at a time when we are all rooting for diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, walking away from the JCPOA risks losing a deal that accomplishes – with Iran – the very outcome that we are pursuing with the North Koreans.
That is why today’s announcement is so misguided. Walking away from the JCPOA turns our back on America’s closest allies, and an agreement that our country’s leading diplomats, scientists, and intelligence professionals negotiated. In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one Administration to the next. But the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America’s credibility, and puts us at odds with the world’s major powers.
Debates in our country should be informed by facts, especially debates that have proven to be divisive. So it’s important to review several facts about the JCPOA.
First, the JCPOA was not just an agreement between my Administration and the Iranian government. After years of building an international coalition that could impose crippling sanctions on Iran, we reached the JCPOA together with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia, China, and Iran. It is a multilateral arms control deal, unanimously endorsed by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.
Second, the JCPOA has worked in rolling back Iran’s nuclear program. For decades, Iran had steadily advanced its nuclear program, approaching the point where they could rapidly produce enough fissile material to build a bomb. The JCPOA put a lid on that breakout capacity. Since the JCPOA was implemented, Iran has destroyed the core of a reactor that could have produced weapons-grade plutonium; removed two-thirds of its centrifuges (over 13,000) and placed them under international monitoring; and eliminated 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium – the raw materials necessary for a bomb. So by any measure, the JCPOA has imposed strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program and achieved real results.
Third, the JCPOA does not rely on trust – it is rooted in the most far-reaching inspections and verification regime ever negotiated in an arms control deal. Iran’s nuclear facilities are strictly monitored. International monitors also have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain, so that we can catch them if they cheat. Without the JCPOA, this monitoring and inspections regime would go away.
Fourth, Iran is complying with the JCPOA. That was not simply the view of my Administration. The United States intelligence community has continued to find that Iran is meeting its responsibilities under the deal, and has reported as much to Congress. So have our closest allies, and the international agency responsible for verifying Iranian compliance – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Fifth, the JCPOA does not expire. The prohibition on Iran ever obtaining a nuclear weapon is permanent. Some of the most important and intrusive inspections codified by the JCPOA are permanent. Even as some of the provisions in the JCPOA do become less strict with time, this won’t happen until ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years into the deal, so there is little reason to put those restrictions at risk today.
Finally, the JCPOA was never intended to solve all of our problems with Iran. We were clear-eyed that Iran engages in destabilizing behavior – including support for terrorism, and threats toward Israel and its neighbors. But that’s precisely why it was so important that we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior – and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies – is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.
Because of these facts, I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake. Without the JCPOA, the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East. We all know the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. It could embolden an already dangerous regime; threaten our friends with destruction; pose unacceptable dangers to America’s own security; and trigger an arms race in the world’s most dangerous region. If the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA are lost, we could be hastening the day when we are faced with the choice between living with that threat, or going to war to prevent it.
In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry
“Today’s announcement weakens our security, breaks America’s word, isolates us from our European allies, puts Israel at greater risk, empowers Iran’s hardliners, and reduces our global leverage to address Tehran’s misbehavior, while damaging the ability of future Administrations to make international agreements. No rhetoric is required. The facts speak for themselves. Instead of building on unprecedented nonproliferation verification measures, this decision risks throwing them away and dragging the world back to the brink we faced a few years ago. The extent of the damage will depend on what Europe can do to hold the nuclear agreement together, and it will depend on Iran’s reaction. America should never have to outsource those stakes to any other country. This is not in America’s interests. We should all hope the world can preserve the nuclear agreement.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin
“From the beginning, the Obama-era Iran Deal was deeply flawed. Iran’s hostile actions since its signing have only reaffirmed that it remains dedicated to sowing instability in the region. The president’s announcement today is a strong statement that we can and must do better. I have always believed the best course of action is to fix the deficiencies in the agreement. It is unfortunate that we could not reach an understanding with our European partners on a way to do that, but I am grateful to them for working with the United States toward that goal. The president is right to insist that we hold Iran accountable both today and for the long-term. There will now be an implementation period for applying sanctions on Iran. During that time, it is my hope that the United States will continue to work with our allies to achieve consensus on addressing a range of destabilizing Iranian behavior—both nuclear and non-nuclear.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a great diplomatic achievement. Experts and our allies all agree that this landmark agreement has been successful in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and even senior Trump Administration officials have confirmed that Iran has remained in compliance with the agreement. Yet, the President has chosen to utterly ignore that reality.
“The President’s decision to follow his misguided and uninformed campaign promise to destroy the successful Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action endangers global security and defies comprehension.
“This rash decision isolates America, not Iran. Our allies will hold up their end of the agreement, but our government will lose its international credibility and the power of our voice at the table. The President’s decision to abdicate American leadership during a critical moment in our effort to advance a denuclearization agreement with North Korea is particularly senseless, disturbing and dangerous.
“Democrats have no illusions about the Iranian regime. We remain strongly committed to stopping the advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program, its egregious human rights abuses, and its support of terrorism and other nefarious activities in the region.
“Today is a sad day for America’s global leadership. The Trump Administration’s dangerous and impulsive action is no substitute for real global leadership.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
“America should be a country that keeps it promises. The Obama Administration negotiated a landmark agreement to peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran Deal breaks our word, hurts our credibility with our allies, empowers Iranian hardliners, and doesn’t make us any safer here at home. There’s no question that Iran’s government is a bad actor. But inspectors have independently verified that Iran has been complying with the deal - a fact that even the Trump Administration has conceded. I’d rather the United States - together with our allies - counter Iran’s bad behavior with the nuclear deal than without it. Instead, President Trump has pulled the US out without offering any real alternative to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, creating chaos and confusion across the Middle East, and the world. This isn’t a strategy. It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts
“The President’s decision has gravely undermined America’s national security interests. The United States is walking away from a deal that prevented Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons forever, and we got absolutely nothing in return. Instead, President Trump’s decision has left us isolated from our closest European allies, less secure, and without any strategy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons other than another deadly war.
“The Iran nuclear deal was doing exactly what it was designed to do – verifiably ensuring Iran did not obtain nuclear weapons. It drastically rolled back Iran’s nuclear program. It put into place the most stringent monitoring and verification regime ever negotiated and gave international inspectors access and inspection rights to Iran’s nuclear facilities in perpetuity. The deal did not prevent America from countering Iran’s other malign activities or negotiating new deals to address concerns about the sunset clauses in the existing nuclear deal. And if President Trump was really serious about countering Iran’s other non-nuclear activities, he would have used the sanctions authorities Congress has already given him to address these behaviors. Instead, against the advice of our closest allies and his own national security professionals, he has walked away from a deal preventing Iran getting the one capability – nuclear weapons – that would make its malign activities worse.
“You don’t burn down the house to remodel the kitchen. Iran is now free to immediately re-start high level enrichment and nuclear activities without monitoring. Withdrawing from the deal also encourages Iran’s neighbors and rivals like Saudi Arabia to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs, potentially sparking a Middle East arms race, and empowers the hardliners and extremists within Iran. Instead of committing to an agreement that strengthened America’s position against Iran, President Trump just threw away a deal that was our roadmap forward toward engagement and peace and have again turned toward confrontation and war.”
US Representative William Keating of Massachusetts
“In the very same day that President Trump announced our country’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, the House Foreign Affairs Committee met and both Republicans and Democrats on the Committee urged him not to pursue this course of action. So why bipartisanship on this particular agreement? Because it is keeping us safer. It will work in permanently banning the ability of Iran to have nuclear weapons. It takes the hard sanctions that we worked on with our allies – our European allies in particular – that came to bear on Iran and ensured that we work together with leverage and strength so Iran does not violate this agreement. And they have not.
“It is important to remember that had we not struck this agreement in the first place, Iran would already have a nuclear weapon. At the time of the agreement, they were only two months away. The President’s actions today are dangerous. Pulling out brings us closer to immediate conflict and also, experts agree it will make more nuclear weapons available in the Middle East. Instead, we should be joining with our allies and aggressively pursuing inspections and certifications. That is already at our disposal and if Iran violates the agreement, the coalition can come together and make adjustments. Notably, the President utterly failed in his announcement to show any proof or give any credible reason why we should withdraw from the deal.
“The coalition that came together to strike this agreement has dated back to the end of WWII and is responsible for one of the longest eras of relative peace and prosperity the world has ever known. Our allies are staying in the agreement. Pulling the US out divides us. That is exactly what Russia has attempted to do to this Western coalition for decades and continues to do today.
“I hope Congress and our Committee can move forward and take a larger role to send the right message to our own citizens, our global allies, and our enemies that we will continue to stand together and be strong. But to do so we can’t take the course that the President laid out for us today.”
US Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts
“President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Deal by not extending waivers on Iran sanctions is one of the most reckless and dangerous things he’s done since taking office.
“In the absence of any concrete evidence of an Iranian violation, the President’s rash decision to violate the JCPOA isolates us from our international partners who worked diligently with us and negotiated in good faith to bring about this landmark agreement that closed all pathways to Iran’s nuclear weapon activities. Ironically, Iran might now decide to resume its quest for nuclear weapons and can rightfully blame the U.S. for violating the agreement.
“Walking away from the JCPOA will add to escalating tensions in the region and the threat of war or military confrontation with Iran becomes more likely. Successfully confronting Iran’s hostile actions elsewhere has just been made more difficult now that Trump has abandoned the JCPOA.
“Just weeks away from U.S. talks with North Korea aimed at decreasing tensions and limiting the nuclear threat posed by that country, President Trump has demonstrated that his word and the credibility of the United States cannot be trusted.
“By abandoning the Iran Deal, as well as adding other poorly-conceived unilateral sanctions and conditions against Iran, President Trump has put America’s national security at risk and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran back on the table.
“Americans deserve better from their leaders. I urge President Trump to immediately reconsider this dangerous move and put the safety of the American people first by reversing this terrible decision.”