Commentary & Analysis

As news breaks and events unfold ahead of the 2020 elections, the American Jewish Congress will provide expert commentary and analysis on Jewish and Israel-related issues  


September 25, 2019

As world leaders descend on New York for the 74th session of the UN General Assembly this week, one of the main topics of discussion will surely revolve around Iran’s continued aggression in the Middle East and the future of the Iranian nuclear deal. With the Trump administration looking to the world to help ramp up the pressure on Tehran and possibly seek a Security Council resolution, the topic will certainly dominate the discussion

While the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) was drafted with good intentions, it had two key shortcomings that drew strong opposition, including from Israel, and ultimately caused the Trump Administration to withdraw from it: It did not address Iran’s malign actions in the region, including sponsorship of global terror and its ballistic missile program; and the existence of a “sunset” provision which only pauses Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon for a period of 10 years instead of disbanding it altogether.  

The vast majority of 2020 Democratic candidates have stated that, as Presidents, they would ensure that the United States would return to the same deal if Iran was back in compliance with the agreement’s terms. Others have said they would rejoin the existing deal but seek to add or expand to it going forward “from within,” and some stated they would negotiate an entirely new deal.

Below are the positions of each candidate regarding the Iran nuclear deal as they appear in the Jewish Guide to U.S. Politics.  Click on the candidate’s name to view his/her profile.

Joe Biden
Vice president Biden’s position on the nuclear deal is complicated as Biden was Vice President during the negotiations with Iran. He is a supporter of the deal and he criticized President Trump for pulling out of it. While he believes Iran must never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, Biden had said he would re-enter the JCPOA as a starting point to work alongside US allies to extend the deal’s nuclear constraints. Most recently, though, at an event with American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen, Biden said he would “… try to pull back together the international community to … insist that we keep the second part of the agreement, which is enforce—by military means if necessary—actions against the destabilizing force of the Quds force of Iran in the Gulf.”

Elizabeth Warren
Senator Warren believes that if Iran returns to compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal, the United States should return as well. If Iran were not in compliance, she would pursue strong and principled diplomacy in concert with US allies to bring both the United States and Iran back into the deal. She sees the JCPOA as the beginning and would thus negotiate a follow-on to the agreement that continues to constrain Iran’s nuclear program past the “sunset” of some of its original terms. 

Bernie Sanders
Senator Sanders said he would re-enter the existing agreement and work with the P5+1 and Iran to build upon it with additional measures to further block any path to a nuclear weapon, restrain Iran’s offensive actions in the region and forge a new strategic balance in the Middle East.

Kamala Harris
Senator Harris said she would plan to rejoin the JCPOA so long as Iran also returned to verifiable compliance. She would also seek negotiations with Iran to extend and supplement some of the nuclear deal’s existing provisions, and work with US’s partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region, including with regard to its ballistic missile program.

Cory Booker
While Senator Booker strongly supports the nuclear deal with Iran, he believes that it’s impossible to turn back the clock and pretend the damage done by Trump hasn’t happened.During the first Democratic debate on June 26, Senator Booker stated that he did not support the idea of unilaterally rejoining the deal. He argued that he wanted to make sure that if he had the opportunity to leverage a better deal, he would do it.

Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Buttigieg said would rejoin the JCPOA if Iran resumed implementing its commitments, but he would take the agreement as a floor, not a ceiling. He would revive P5+1 diplomacy and direct US-Iran dialogue at the appropriate levels and would want to pursue follow-on agreements that extend the timeframe of certain nuclear restrictions, cover Iran’s missile program, and address its role in regional conflicts, all in return for targeted sanctions relief.

Beto O’Rourke
Former Congressman O’Rourke said he would rejoin the JCPOA, conditioned on Iran’s compliance with its commitments under the agreement. He would use the agreement as a starting point for future negotiations, aimed at reigning in Iran’s most destabilizing behavior in the region, limiting Iran’s ballistic missile capability, and ensuring that Iran never becomes a nuclear weapon state. 

Amy Klobuchar
Senator Klobuchar said she supports rejoining the existing nuclear agreement and she “would work to renegotiate ourselves back into that agreement.” 

Andrew Yang
Yang said he would work with US allies to negotiate a new JCPOA, with longer terms and delayed deadlines to reflect the time wasted with Trump and Bolton’s posturing. He believes that the US needs to get Iran back in compliance with the limitations placed on them under the agreement on nuclear materials and enrichment capabilities, and to build on the agreement to get Iran to stop destabilizing the region, attacking US allies, funding terrorist organizations, and causing conflict in the Strait of Hormuz.

Julián Castro
Secretary Castro said he would re-enter the US into the JCPOA if Iran complied with the terms of the agreement as determined by the intelligence community.

Tulsi Gabbard
Congresswoman Gabbard said she would re-enter the agreement but not support Iran reparations. She has called the deal “imperfect” and said that “we need to negotiate how we can improve (the deal).”

John Delaney
Former Congressman Delaney said he would rejoin the JCPOA but insist on a longer duration. He would seek a longer term – 20 years – as a condition for rejoining the agreement. Additionally, he would make clear to the Iranians that, while the JCPOA does not address Iranian ICBM developments or Iranian complicity in terrorist activities, the United States will independently of the nuclear deal take strong measures to respond to any such conduct.

Steve Bullock
Governor Bullock said he would rejoin the JCPOA, as a nuclear Iran would further destabilize the entire Middle East. He would work closely with European allies to achieve the common goal of a non-nuclear Iran and a Middle East that can work toward peace and prosperity without the constant threat of nuclear conflict. However, he said he wouldn’t seek to reenter the deal “word for word” and advocates for changes.

Tim Ryan
Congressman Ryan thinks it would be impossible to rejoin the JCPOA as it was written in 2015. He would support entering a new version of the agreement that extends restrictions even further into the future, but I would not compensate the Iranians for economic losses suffered after the U.S. left the agreement

Michael Bennet
Senator Bennet said he would rejoin the agreement if all parties were in compliance. 

Marianne Williamson 
Williamson said she would rejoin the JCPOA. She would increase diplomacy, decrease tensions, and transform relations to create a context to address human rights and other issues. 

Wayne Messam
Mayor Messam said that returning to the treaty would be a priority for him. 

Joe Sestak
Former Congressman Sestak said he would rejoin the JCPOA without demanding changes to the agreement.

Tom Steyer
Steyer has yet to publicly comment on the issue.