Follow us on social


Progressives urge House Dems to help Biden save the Iran nuclear deal

Foreseeing a battle to re-engage Iran in a potential Biden administration, more than a dozen progressive groups sent a letter to Capitol Hill calling on House Democrats to dig in.

Reporting | Middle East

Sixteen progressive groups have signed a letter urging the next House Foreign Affairs Committee chair to help a “potential Biden administration” save the nuclear deal with Iran.

All three candidates to run the committee — one of two powerful foreign policy bodies in Congress — have voiced their support for the deal. Progressives are now asking for specific commitments from the candidates, including a promise to put economic sanctions relief on the table and stop any “poison pill” legislation that would undermine diplomacy with Iran.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D–Calif.) and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D–N.Y.) are currently favored to win the chairmanship, while Rep. Joaquín Castro (D–TX) is running as an insurgent progressive candidate.

“This is potentially the first major foreign policy issue an HFAC chair might have to deal with,” said Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council, one of the signatories of the letter. “The JCPOA has been a real foreign policy litmus test for members of Congress. It’s gotten more scrutiny than maybe any other of Obama’s diplomatic deals.”

The letter was also signed by the Arms Control Association, the progressive Jewish organization J-Street, and  foreign policy-focused groups  Just Foreign Policy and Win Without War.

The United States and five other world powers had agreed to lift international economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program, a 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action.

President Donald Trump broke from the deal in 2018, and instead began a “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iranian government.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seems committed to restoring the JCPOA, as his advisors have said that they would support a return to the deal or something like it.

But other roadblocks could emerge from Congress. Friday’s letter from progressives warns that, “many in Congress sought to play spoiler” during the original JCPOA negotiations “by undermining America’s diplomats as they sought to trade in sanctions for far-reaching nuclear concessions.”

“The last time [a deal with Iran] happened, it was a major slog through Congress, with a lot of misinformation about the agreement, and a lot of money being poured in against the agreement,” Costello said.

Indeed, the House voted to disapprove of the JCPOA in 2015, but the measure ultimately failed after Senate Democrats filibustered the bill.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D–N.Y.), the current chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was one of nineteen House Democrats who joined with Republicans to vote against the deal in 2015.

Members of Congress have also supported new sanctions measures ostensibly unrelated to the nuclear file that could jeopardize diplomacy with Iran.

Congress overwhelmingly voted for new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia in 2017, leading Iran to accuse the United States of violating the nuclear deal.

A majority of House members signed a letter in March 2020 calling for a new arms embargo against Iran. The Trump administration has used the letter to justify “sanctions snapback,” a risky diplomatic move that threatens to kill the JCPOA once and for all.

But progressives now see an opportunity to push Democrats to the left on foreign policy.

Engel will not be returning to Congress in 2021, as he was defeated in New York’s June primary elections, with Reps. Sherman, Meeks, and Castro vying to take over his position as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

A coalition of seventy progressive groups led by Demand Progress has called on Democrats to adopt a “vision of restraint and progressive realism,” and has tried to organize public discussions involving all three candidates.

Friday’s letter ties the Iran issue to several issues important to the progressive foreign policy coalition.

It calls for the House Foreign Affairs Committee to examine how economic sanctions have affected civilians in Iran — especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic — and asked that the United States “put additional incentives on the table in exchange for Iranian concessions on regional security and human rights.”

The letter also asks for an investigation into “the sidelining of career civil service officers for their work on the JCPOA.”

An internal State Department investigation last year found that the Trump administration had pushed out a Iranian-American career official after more hawkish officials baselessly accused her of loyalty to Iran and anti-Trump bias.

The best evidence of progressive groups’ success so far may be the fact that all three candidates for HFAC chair support the JCPOA.

Meeks and Castro were staunch supporters of the deal from the beginning, and boycotted a 2015 speech by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging Congress to reject the JCPOA.

Sherman had originally joined Engel and the Republicans in voting against the JCPOA in 2015, but has since gone on the record in support of restoring the deal.

“Clearly, that’s something that’s shifted, maybe as a result of the HFAC chair race, because a majority of members are opposed to the Trump administration's approach that has brought us to the brink of war,” Costello said.

Photo: W. Scott McGill via
Reporting | Middle East
Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war — and the peace

Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war — and the peace


This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his starkest warning yet about the need for new military aid from the United States.

“It’s important to specifically address the Congress,” Zelensky said. “If the Congress doesn’t help Ukraine, Ukraine will lose the war.”

keep readingShow less
Biden should not follow Netanyahu into war with Iran
photo : U.S. President Joe Biden attends a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Biden should not follow Netanyahu into war with Iran

Middle East

The U.S. and Israel have been raising the alarm of a possible Iranian retaliatory strike in response to last week’s Israeli attack on an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus. The president once again pledged “ironclad” U.S. support for Israel in the event of an Iranian response, and the head of Central Command, Gen. Erik Kurilla, was reportedly headed to Israel Thursday to coordinate with Israeli leaders ahead of the expected strike. The administration is moving in the wrong direction. The U.S. ought to be distancing itself from Israel’s illegal attack, but instead the Biden administration is moving to shield Israel from the consequences of its own actions.

Israeli forces have routinely struck Iranian and other targets in Syria for more than a decade, but the attack on the consulate in Damascus was a major escalation both in terms of the location and the rank of the Iranian officers that were killed. The Israeli government appears to want to goad Iran into a military response to divert attention from the slaughter and famine in Gaza and to trap the U.S. into joining the fight. The president has made it that much easier for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by volunteering to walk into the trap.

keep readingShow less
House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Adam Smith (Photo: VDB Photos /
House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Adam Smith (Photo: VDB Photos /

Top House Dem blasts 'nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine' approach


Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) offered a rare Democratic rebuke of the Biden administration’s rhetoric on the war in Ukraine during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Smith, the ranking member on the committee, was following up on questions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla) to Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, on whether the administration considered the repatriation of Crimea and the Donbas as necessary for a Ukrainian victory.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis