While foreign policy did not loom large in Wednesday night’s Democratic debate (the first of two nights), candidates were asked how as president, they would handle tensions with Iran.
(The quick Cliff Notes version of the issue: In 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a nuclear deal with Iran that saw Iran scaling back enrichment activity in exchange for sanctions relief. The United States violated the deal by reimposing sanctions on Iran. Last week, Trump was reportedly 10 minutes away from ordering a military strike on Iran, as the country will soon surpass enrichment limits set by that deal. It does not have a nuclear weapon.)
The question to candidates on Wednesday was how about each candidate would “dial it back” on Iran, and who among them — by show of hand — would rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal as it was written and agreed upon.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) was the only one who did not raise his hand, and got first swing at that question. Here’s his answer:
First and foremost, it was a mistake to pull out of that deal. And one of the reasons why we’re seeing this hostility now is because Donald Trump is marching us to a far more dangerous situation. Literally, he took us out of a deal that gave us transparency into their nuclear program and pushed back a nuclear breakout 10, 20 years. And now we see Iran threatening to go further and who are pulled — being pulled further and further into this crisis.
Ok, so far, Booker’s answer puts him in lockstep with President Trump’s critics in both Democrat and Republican parties, as well as other international signatories to the deal — the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany.
But then he went on:
We need to renegotiate and get back into a deal, but I’m not going to have a primary platform to say unilaterally I’m going to rejoin that deal. Because when I’m president of the United States, I’m going to do the best I can to secure this country and that region and make sure that if I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I’m going to do it.
With this, Booker aligns himself with Trump, who, we should note, has failed to get Iran to agree to renegotiating the terms of the deal for over a year. Trump has repeatedly said we can reach a “better deal” with Iran, as have Republican members of Congress who opposed the 2015 deal.
And with each step that Trump has taken — increasing military threats and imposing sanctions on the country’s economy as well as its supreme leader, and soon, its foreign minister — Iran is less likely to enter any kind of negotiation.
After all, Iran, despite sticking to the terms of the deal until now, has gotten nothing in return. It has seen its oil exports drop, its currency free-fall and inflation rates spike. After decades of sanctions, Iran was on the cusp of joining the global economy until Trump came into office and destroyed a deal that was years in the making.
Iranian officials have made it clear that they will not negotiate a new deal while sanctions and military threats remain in place. They said this last year, last month, last week, and last night, when the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “Negotiations are [the Trump administration’s] way of deceiving” Iran into capitulation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) also got the chance to respond the question, and both said they would rejoin the deal, even though it didn’t cover all the issues — such as Iran’s ballistic missile program — the U.S. might have with the deal.
Klobuchar said she would “negotiate us back into that agreement…stand with our allies, and not give unlimited leverage to China and Russia, which is what he has done,” while Gabbard said she would also get back in the deal and “negotiate how we can improve it.”
“We can do both simultaneously to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and preventing us from going to war,” she added.
None of the candidates addressed what U.S.-Iran relations would look like in 2021 should a Democratic president take office, and whether the deal would still be a viable option.