Sen. Risch: Negotiating a return to the JCPOA is 'waste of time'

“I am very much in disagreement when they say [returning to the JCPOA] is the only way. To me, it's the only way for [Iran] to reasonably go forward to get the bomb, which is what they want.”

 Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building in Vienna (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER/FILE PHOTO)
Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building in Vienna

WASHINGTON – As the US and Iran are preparing for the next round of indirect talks in Vienna to discuss a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear agreement, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), warns that such an agreement won’t stop the Iranians from seeking nuclear weapons. “I’m not at all enthusiastic about an agreement with Iranians,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “We’ve tried it; it hasn’t worked.”

Risch, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sat with the Post for an interview at his Senate office. “I am very much in disagreement when they say [that returning to the JCPOA] is the only way,” he said. “To me, it’s the only way for [Iran] to reasonably go forward to get the bomb, which is what they want.

“This is a Persian empire that’s been around for thousands of years that is very patient about getting to where they want to get to. And they clearly are in the frame of mind that they want a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“Frankly, I know they won’t agree to conditions in the JCPOA, whatever it looks like, that would prevent them from reaching their goal.

“I think the Biden administration would probably be glad for them to go right back into the JCPOA the way it was,” he said, adding that he believes this is a minority view in Washington. “And that’s the reason they won’t put it up for a vote at the US Senate. They can’t win a vote here on that.”

Committee chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, DC, US July 30, 2020. (credit: GREG NASH/POOL VIA REUTERS)Committee chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, DC, US July 30, 2020. (credit: GREG NASH/POOL VIA REUTERS)

The senator said that any future agreement should include several redlines. “Number one: They’ve got to commit to never pursuing a nuclear weapon. Number two: They’ve got to give up all enrichment, all dealings of any kind with nuclear matters because there’s only one reason to do that – to pursue a particular thing for military purposes.”

The third condition, he said, is that the Iranians must give up supporting Hamas, Hezbollah and all other terrorist organizations. And fourth, “they’ve got to comply with UN resolutions regarding their testing of ICBM’s and other rocket systems.

“So does anybody think the Iranians are going to agree to that? Of course they are not going to agree to that,” he said. “So as far as I’m concerned, [the administration is] wasting their time sitting at the table with them.”

ASKED ABOUT Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s plan to create a “longer and stronger” agreement after returning to the JCPOA, Risch said that this idea was “delusional”: “If he thinks that he’s going to get a follow-on agreement from the Iranians, he is badly, badly mistaken. That is a failed strategy before it ever starts – and it should not be a road that they go down.

“I’ve heard the argument before – people say, ‘well you tried sanctions and what they did was increase their enrichment,’” Risch said. “They may have increased their enrichment, but we all know what the economic conditions are like in Iran.

“And my view is that we need to tighten the screw tight – and they’re going to do what they’re going to do. I don’t think the JCPOA is going to contain” the Iranians.

“My question to the administration is always: What happens when the Israelis make the decision that the Iranians are now on the cusp of assembling and manufacturing nuclear weapons?” Risch asked. “I know what they’re going to do. I think the Iranians know what they’re going to do. The world probably knows what’s going to happen. [Biden] administration – what are you going to do when you get the call?”

Last month, Risch joined Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tennessee) and 33 Republican colleagues to introduce the Upholding the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Law Act of 2021, which opposes the reopening of a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem.

“In my judgment, the reason not to open it is because of the lack of progress on the part of the Palestinians,” Risch said. “Reopening a consulate for them in Jerusalem is a reward. The question I’ve got is: A reward for what? They have done nothing to earn a reward. So I’m just not interested.”

And the senator doesn’t think that they will do anything worthy of reward “in the foreseeable future.”

“The Palestinians are the Palestinians – they haven’t changed,” he lamented. “They’ve missed every opportunity that’s been put in front of them. They show no indication of attempting to change and they’re refusing to change. If they refuse to change, then they’ve got to accept the consequences of the refusal.”

RISCH WAS also asked about the decision of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to delay the vote on Iron Dome replenishment. Asked whether there is a timeline for the process to resume, Risch said: “I can’t answer that; [Paul] has his own issues with that.

“As you know, the United States Senate is a place where a single senator can have a tremendous amount of power in stopping something. A single senator can’t make something move forward, but we’re really good at being able to stop stuff. And it’s a power that each of us have,” he explained.

He has his own reasons for that, and there’s only a limited amount of things that you can do to get around that,” Risch said. “I don’t have a specific description for you of how that will happen, but I can tell you that I am relatively confident that we’re going to get Iron Dome replenished sooner rather than later.”

Another issue that is being held up at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is the confirmation of Deborah Lipstadt as the next Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Her nomination has been stalled for the past few weeks and it is still unclear when the Senate will debate and vote to confirm her.

Risch told the Jewish Insider last week that he was concerned about past Lipstadt tweets in which she was critical of Republican lawmakers.

“The primary reason [for the delay] is simply the workload of the committee,” he told the Post. “I don’t think there’s anything nefarious here. I will say this: On all of the [nominations], but that one in particular, we do go back and look at everything that’s been said and done by the nominee to make sure we’re doing the right thing. It’s still a work in progress.

“There’s been no decisions made; to my knowledge, there’s no one holding it up intentionally,” he said. “It shouldn’t be read by anyone to be an indication of a problem with her, a problem with the issue, or anything else.”

Asked whether he received the letter penned by some 20 Jewish organizations calling for Lipstadt’s confirmation, he said: “Yes, that’s impressive – and it’s persuasive.”