Friedman: No rational person would return to Iran deal

“In 2015, reasonable minds could disagree" • “The Iran band is back together again. You’d have to not be paying attention not to be concerned about Iran, given [their] prominent positions”

Outgoing US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, January 18, 2021 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Outgoing US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, January 18, 2021
US President-elect Joe Biden’s senior foreign-policy appointments are reason for concern when it comes to the Iran nuclear threat, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in a final interview with The Jerusalem Post before he leaves office on Wednesday.
Regarding the incoming administration, he said: “I am worried about one thing in particular: about Iran.”
Friedman pointed to top Iran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman being tapped as deputy secretary of state, Anthony Blinken as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security advisor, along with former secretary of state John Kerry and ex-national security advisor Susan Rice being appointed to senior posts, all of whom were involved in making the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers happen.
“The Iran band is back together again,” he said. “You’d have to not be paying attention not to be concerned about Iran, given [their] prominent positions.”
The Trump administration left the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, instituting a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime. It continued over the weekend with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing new sanctions on companies doing business with the Iranian shipping and construction sectors.
Biden has said he hopes to return to the original Iran deal, with strict compliance by the regime, and enter negotiations to strengthen the agreement. However, he faces challenges from a defiant Iran that has ramped up its violations in recent weeks.
Tehran announced this month that it would enrich uranium up to 20% and that it would begin research to produce uranium metals, both major violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal’s official title. Those announcements were the enactment of parts of a recent Iranian parliamentary vote, which also included a resolution to destroy Israel.
Friedman expressed hope that the appointees would realize things have changed since the JCPOA was signed.
“In 2015, reasonable minds could disagree,” he said. “Someone could give the benefit of the doubt and think the Iran deal was a good idea. The premise was that Iran would self-modulate... Now we know they didn’t. They destroyed Yemen, attacked America in Iraq, attacked Israel from Syria and funded Hezbollah, Israel’s greatest risk on any border.”
Over five years later, “we know they cheated,” he said. “We know that when they said they never had a military infrastructure for their nuclear ambitions, they were lying.”
“I’m hoping any rational person would know we can’t return to the JCPOA, but the news reports [indicate] trouble,” Friedman said.
The outgoing ambassador also expressed hope that the next administration would build on the Abraham Accords, the Trump-backed peace and normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
“They’re brand new,” he said. “We don’t have a long track record with them.”
Friedman emphasized the extensive efforts the Trump administration took to make the agreements a reality, highlighting his senior adviser Aryeh Lightstone’s travels throughout the region to foster agreements between Israel and the other countries’ governments once normalization was announced.
“The Abraham Accords are still new; they need to be nurtured,” Friedman said. “I hope we can continue to nurture this relationship. It’s too new to leave it on its own.”
Read the full interview with Friedman, in which he sums up his term as ambassador and the Trump administration’s Israel policies, in Friday’s Jerusalem Post.