(JTA) — Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of state, said that the United States would seek to return to the Iran nuclear deal but would also consult with Israel on Iran policy.
“It’s also vitally important that we engage on the takeoff and not the landing with our allies and with our partners in the region to include Israel and to include the Gulf countries,” Blinken said Tuesday at a Senate confirmation hearing.
Blinken’s remarks represented an implicit acknowledgment that Iran policy under President Barack Obama, whom he served as a deputy national security adviser, was flawed in keeping negotiations with Iran that led to the 2015 deal secret from Israel and the Sunni Arab states.
Under sharp questioning from Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is set to become the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and who was among a handful of Democrats to oppose the 2015 deal, Blinken said Biden would seek to return to the agreement.
China, Russia and the European Union have remained in the deal since it was formed. But President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018, saying it was too generous in its terms, offering sanctions relief for a partial rollback of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Blinken said Biden believed the deal needed amending, and that other concerns about Iran needed to be addressed, including its missile program and its adventurism in the region. But first, he said, it was vital to get back into the deal because Iran had used Trump’s pullout as a pretext to abrogate parts of the deal and now is closer than ever to a nuclear weapon.
The Iran deal, “for whatever its limitations, was succeeding on its own terms in blocking Iran’s pathways to producing fissile material for a nuclear weapon on short order,” he said. “It is now enriching at a higher level, it is deploying centrifuges in ways that were prohibited.”
He said getting back into a deal would be complicated by Iran’s violation of some of its terms. “We’re a long way from there,” he said.
In his introductory remarks, Blinken, who is Jewish, described the gratitude of his step-father, Samuel Pisar, at his rescue from Holocaust Europe.
He also reaffirmed a number of pro-Israel policies that Biden championed during his campaign, including keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, opposing boycotts of Israel and support for the normalization deals the Trump administration has brokered between Israel and four Arab states.