May 20, 2021

Bad Iran Deal 2: The Sequel is as Bad as the Original


  • The Biden administration is negotiating to reenter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, granting Iran substantial sanctions relief in exchange for short-term limitations on its nuclear program.
  • Senate Republicans have offered to work with the president on a strong deal that covers the whole spectrum of destabilizing Iranian activities, but the administration has rebuffed those efforts and moved to return to the Obama-era deal.
  • The Biden approach sacrifices significant sanctions leverage for a deal that will soon expire and will make it harder to get a more comprehensive agreement.  

The Biden administration is intent on reentering the flawed 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The president plans to offer the Iranians significant concessions, including sanctions relief, to get them to agree. Despite repeated pledges by senior cabinet officials to the contrary, there is no effort at present to “lengthen and strengthen” the 2015 agreement or address Iran’s non-nuclear threats.

The administration seems to be planning to alter the deal through follow-on agreements with the Iranian regime that are unlikely to materialize. As it negotiates in Vienna, Iran continues to ship arms to the Houthis in Yemen, props up the Assad regime’s continued atrocities in Syria, provides financial support for Hamas’ aggression against Israel, and facilitates Iran-backed militia attacks against our troops and diplomats in Iraq.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal only put short-term limits on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, and it allowed Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism and other violent behavior around the world to continue. The Iranian regime used the sanctions relief that it received under the 2015 deal to increase its support for terrorist groups. Re-entering the 2015 agreement without addressing its serious shortcomings would endanger our allies and lead to long-term instability in the region. While some of the deal’s commitments last until 2031, critical provisions expire in just two years. In 2023, the deal’s “Transition Day” triggers the U.N. to lift missile restrictions, terminates all remaining EU nuclear sanctions, removes certain entities from the U.S. sanctions list, and requires Congress to terminate certain sanctions.

Iran’s threat to Americans and our partners represents a decades-long challenge that both Republican and Democratic administrations have confronted. Addressing this threat should transcend politics. But despite the administration’s stated commitment to bipartisanship, it has rebuffed efforts to forge a bipartisan approach. While administration officials have briefed top Republican senators, the administration has not been responsive to GOP policy suggestions and has not changed course on rejoining the deal.

Sunset Provisions in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal

Sunset Provisions in 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal

Credit: FDD

Losing Leverage, with NO “PLAN B”

The Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign took a significant toll on the Iranian government by cutting off access to vital markets. Iran’s desire for sanctions relief gives the Biden administration significant leverage to reach a better deal that also addresses Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program. 

Instead, the administration is settling for the old deal. Iran stands to gain $90 billion from frozen revenue and other funds under the Biden administration’s approach. Tehran likely will use this money to shore up its reserves, fund terrorism, proliferate missiles with renewed vigor, and pursue other activities that do not advance U.S. interests. Rather than resolving the Iran problem, the Biden administration’s approach will enrich an emboldened adversary.

The administration has no apparent “plan B” if its current approach fails. It appears focused on reentering the 2015 agreement and has not suggested that Iran will face any additional costs if Tehran rebuffs the administration’s generous offer of sanctions relief. If the Iranian regime rejects the administration’s current efforts, the Biden administration will be unable to use this offer as leverage for a “longer and stronger” deal down the road, since it’s already shown that the U.S. is willing to settle for much less.


Iran remains the most active state sponsor and practitioner of terrorism in the world, planning attacks and funding proxy organizations that put America and our allies at risk. In February, Iranian proxies wounded five Americans in a rocket attack in Iraq, one of approximately a dozen attacks on Americans in the country since late January. Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy intercepted a huge shipment of weapons likely headed to resupply Houthi terrorists in Yemen, and Tehran maintains a “land bridge” in the region to supply its proxies. Currently, Iranian-supported groups are targeting Israeli cities with thousands of rockets. For this reason, Israel has made clear that it will not abide by a deal President Biden makes with Iran.

No Congressional review

Senate Republicans do not oppose diplomacy in pursuit of a deal that addresses the full spectrum of malign Iranian behavior. Yet the Biden administration has rebuffed Senate Republican calls for a bipartisan approach. The administration signaled that it is looking to lift sanctions that it claims are “inconsistent” with the 2015 deal, possibly including terrorism sanctions, in exchange for Iran returning to compliance. Senate Republicans argue that this would constitute a new deal subject to congressional review under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, even if the base deal remains unchanged. INARA seeks to ensure that Congress has the chance to review a new future deal with Iran. It is likely that the Biden administration will try to bypass the law by arguing any agreement with Iran related to the 2015 JCPOA does not constitute a new deal, but a return to the old one.

This end run would be directly contrary to other assurances by administration officials. During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised consultation, saying: “I believe that we have to restore Congress’ traditional role as a partner in our foreign policymaking. In recent years across administrations of both parties, Congress’ voice in foreign policy has been diluted and diminished. That doesn’t make the executive branch stronger it makes our country weaker.”

Blinken was right then, but he seems to have forgotten his commitment to partnership with Congress. The administration should recall that the Iran deal was struck in the first place by a Democratic president acting without proper consultation with Congress. The deal collapsed when a different president took office because it lacked bipartisan support. Any attempt to reach another partisan bargain with Iran will suffer the same weakness and will prove just as fleeting.

Issue Tag: National Security