A group of 140 members of the US Congress, 70 Democrats and 70 Republicans, sent a letter on Tuesday to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging him to ensure that any nuclear agreement or set of agreements that the Biden administration reaches with Iran “comprehensively address the full range of threats that Iran poses to the region.”
Citing Iran’s “dangerous behavior,” the letter stated that any deal “must address three core tenets: “their nuclear program, their ballistic missile program, and their funding of terrorism,” according to a statement by the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.
“As Democrats and Republicans from across the political spectrum, we are united in preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of illicit Iranian behavior,” the letter read.
The letter was initiated by Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, a Democrat, and Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a Republican.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jarad Zarif responded to the letter, saying the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was already “comprehensive.”
“JCPOA IS the comprehensive plan concluded by E3+3 (incl US) & Iran. The “C” stands for COMPREHENSIVE,” Zarif tweeted. “It has been implemented only by Iran. Instead of posturing, US & E3 must finally live up to their commitments made, but never fulfilled.”
US President Joe Biden has expressed a desire to return to the 2015 nuclear deal if Iran honors the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Additionally, tensions remain high after militias in Iraq — likely backed by Iran — continue to target American interests.
Last week a rocket attack hit an air base in western Iraq where American and coalition troops are housed. A US contractor died after at least 10 rockets slammed into the base.
Biden last month launched an airstrike just over the border into Syria in retaliation, joining every American president from Ronald Reagan onward who has ordered a bombardment of countries in the Middle East.
The US airstrikes, which killed one member of the Iran-aligned militia, stoked fears of another cycle of tit-for-tat attacks as happened more than a year ago. Those attacks included the US drone strike in January 2020 that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad and set off months of increased troop levels in the region.
Iran has stepped up its violations of the nuclear pact in recent months, enriching uranium to just under weapons-grade levels and restricting international inspections of its nuclear sites.
Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reportedly told its member states Monday that Iran has started enriching uranium with a third cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz, in a further breach of the 2015 nuclear deal.
“On 7 March 2021, the Agency verified… that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into the third cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges,” the Reuters news agency quoted the UN atomic watchdog as saying in a new report.
UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, a compound that can be fed into centrifuges to produce nuclear fuel.
“The fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges was installed but had yet to be fed with natural UF6; installation of a fifth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges was ongoing; and installation of a sixth cascade of IR-2m centrifuges had yet to begin,” the IAEA report said, according to Reuters.
Since the US left the deal under Trump, Iran has walked away from the pact’s limitations on its stockpile of uranium and has begun enriching to 20 percent, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels.
It is also spinning advanced centrifuges barred by the deal, which saw Iran limit its program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament last month ordered the government to start limiting some inspections by the IAEA, after which the head of the agency, Rafael Grossi, hammered out a temporary technical deal with Tehran.
They confirmed that Iran will continue to allow access to UN inspectors to its nuclear sites — but will for three months bar inspections of other, non-nuclear sites.
According to a report last month, IAEA inspectors last summer found uranium particles at two Iranian nuclear sites that Iran tried to block access to.
Iranian authorities had stonewalled the inspectors from reaching the sites for seven months before the inspection, and Iranian officials have failed to explain the presence of the uranium, Reuters reported, citing diplomats familiar with the UN agency’s work.