Breaking silence, Schumer backs Iran talks, but notes old deal’s ‘problems’

Senate majority leader, who was one of four Democrats to vote against 2015 pact, makes first public comments on matter since coming out against Trump’s 2018 withdrawal

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks on March 1, 2022, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks on March 1, 2022, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer broke his long-maintained silence regarding the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, saying Tuesday that while the original accord had “problems,” negotiations aimed at resurrecting the 2015 agreement are “good.”

“I think that having discussions on this issue is important,” Schumer told reporters when pushed on the matter during a press conference at the Capitol.

“There were problems with the Iran deal originally, and many of us have urged in these discussions [that] the Biden administration deal with those problems, but I think the discussions are important and good,” he added.

Schumer was one of just four Democrats who broke with then-president Barak Obama to vote against his Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action when it came before the Senate in a procedural vote.

He argued at the time that Iran would use the sanctions relief offered by the agreement to pursue nefarious goals throughout the region.

But the largely-Republican opponents fell well short of the super-majority needed to block the deal.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, from left, Sen. Ben Cardin, Sen. Bob Menendez and Sen. Jim Risch, meet on Capitol Hill in Washington on Aug. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

Since then, Schumer has largely avoided commenting on the issue, save for coming out against former president Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to pull out of the JCPOA on grounds that more time should’ve been given to see if it could work.

When The Times of Israel reached out last week to inquire into the majority leader’s position on the matter, his office declined to offer anything on the record.

Schumer on Tuesday still avoided elaborating on what kind of deal he would be able to get behind, but analysts have noted the majority leader has moved to the left on a number of issues, as he faces the possibility of being challenged by a more progressive candidate in a Democratic primary.

But while the majority leader on Tuesday appeared to provide an opening for US President Joe Biden to garner his support, the other three Democrats who voted against the original agreement will likely present a more uphill battle.

Sen. Joe Manchin was the lone Democrat in the Senate to hail Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement in 2018 and has not voiced support for the talks in Vienna aimed at a joint US-Iran return to compliance with the JCPOA.

Sen. Bob Menendez criticized Trump’s withdrawal from the deal and initially offered support for Biden’s efforts in Vienna. But earlier this month, he offered a lacerating expression of no confidence in the nuclear talks in a speech on the Senate floor.

Sen. Ben Cardin, who was the fourth Senate Democrat to vote against the JCPOA said earlier this month that “a bad deal is worse than no deal.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

It does not appear that Biden will need Congress’s approval if the talks in Vienna succeed, as the parties are only discussing a return to the original deal. But Republicans are vowing to try and block the agreement — which trades sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program — if the president bypasses the legislative branch.

Diplomats from Iran and world powers reconvened in Vienna on Monday to resume the eighth round of talks aimed at a JCPOA revival.

Officials say that the talks are reaching their final stage, though it’s unclear how long that might take. The negotiations have dragged on for months, punctuated by a long gap last year caused by the arrival of a hard-line new government in Iran.

The three Western European participants have been warning for a while that time is running out for a successful conclusion of the talks. They have argued that the accord will soon become an “empty shell” in light of Iran stepping up its nuclear program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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