WASHINGTON — After announcing his opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin’s plan to change the deal has met mixed support from interest groups.
In a Washington Post op-ed on Sept. 4, Cardin said he opposed the deal because it “legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program.”
“[It] would provide this legal path to [Iran which] remains a rogue state that has violated its international nonproliferation obligations for years,” said Cardin, the senior Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Cardin is proposing new legislation he believes would add improvements to the Iran Nuclear Agreement. “[This legislation] sets as U.S. policy that Iran will never be permitted to obtain a nuclear weapon and that all options remain on the table, including military options,” Cardin wrote.
Senate Republicans so far have tried unsuccessfully to block the deal before the congressional review period ends on Thursday.
“[Cardin] is still finalizing the legislation with his cosponsors,” said Sue Walitsky, the senator’s press secretary. With the review deadline approaching, Walitsky emphasized that Cardin will continue to seek bipartisan opposition to the current deal.
The senator’s plan places an emphasis on ensuring U.S. regional security and shoring up a comprehensive and fully collaborative plan among all the allies when it comes to combating possible terrorist or nuclear threats.
But Cardin’s proposal has met with differing reactions from groups within the Iranian-American and Jewish communities.
“Ideally, this matter would be rejected and there would be efforts to create a better deal,” said Jay Bernstein, chair of the Baltimore Zionist District’s Public Affairs Committee, referring to the current Iran nuclear deal.
The Baltimore Zionist District, a local organization that advocates for Israel, has been urging Maryland lawmakers to disapprove of the agreement, and has protested that the deal is a direct threat to Israel.
“Too many dollars are being released too soon,” Bernstein said, addressing the agreement’s lifting of sanctions against Iran. “We know what Iran has done in the past, and what they will continue to do.”
Bernstein cited Iran’s history of state-funded terrorism as a reason to remain wary that the government would use the economic benefits from lifted sanctions for domestic infrastructure.
Cardin agreed, warning that removing sanctions could have unintended consequences. “The bottom line is that we know Iran was developing a nuclear weapon, and we must understand how far it went down the weaponization path before we can move forward,” the senator said.
Among his proposals, the Maryland lawmaker plans to include a clarification that no sanctions will be lifted until Iran meets the commitments agreed upon related to its military activities, and the formation of a clear strategy as to how the U.S. and its allies will confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In response to Cardin’s plan, the National Iranian American Council issued a statement denouncing the proposal as “nothing more than a bad faith attempt to scuttle the Iran nuclear accord at the very moment of its inception.”
Specifically, the NIAC charged that Cardin’s measure would prevent the president from being able to enact the diplomatic parameters of the deal to their fullest extent without breaking trust with Iran.
“We should get rid of the ‘all options on the table’ rhetoric,” NIAC policy director Jamal Abdi said. “These threatening statements coming from both sides only empower hardliners.”
Abdi believes that Cardin’s opposition to the deal and attempt to introduce new factors not previously agreed upon could set off an escalation of rhetoric that would lead to increased confrontation between Iran and the United States.
“This is an opportunity to explore diplomacy,” Abdi said, who supports the current deal and views Cardin’s plan as reinforcing a failed policy.
“In short, Cardin’s proposed legislation is being offered to frustrate the purpose of the [Iran deal], which was to relax the ever-growing tensions between the U.S. and Iran,” the NIAC said in its statement.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., announced her approval of the Iran nuclear agreement on Sept. 2.
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is the principal Republican cosponsor on Cardin’s bill.
“Congress and the administration cannot dwell on past disagreements; together we must find a functional, bipartisan approach to Iran,” Cardin wrote.