By Jackson Richman
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, declined to say on Sept. 10 whether, if elected, he would re-enter the US into the 2015 Iran nuclear deal or retain the US embassy in Jerusalem and US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
In response to an inquiry from JNS during a question-and-answer following a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, about his new book, Dividing America: How Russia Hacked Social Media and Democracy, Bennet said:
“I thought it was a terrible decision the president made to abandon the Iran deal. I never thought the Iran deal was perfect. Had concerns about . . . the limitation of time. I had concerns about its scope.
“But when I voted for it, there was a lot that was unknown about what Iran’s compliance with the deal would look like. Those unknowns were known by the time [Donald] Trump became president.”
“What was known was that the Iranians had been pushed back in terms of the breakout to a nuclear weapon by almost a year. They had gone from two to three months to a year, which is really vital. Because what is two or three months? It’s very hard to mobilize allies in that frame of time to be able to react. When you have a year, you have the time to be able do it,” he said.
Most of the limits on Iran’s nuclear program under the 2015 deal expire in 2026. Additionally, there was no vote on the deal itself; rather, Senate Democrats stopped in September, 2015 a Republican resolution to block the nuclear deal as a procedural vote fell short of the 60 needed to end a filibuster.
Security Studies Group senior fellow Matt Brodsky told JNS that “the breakout time was around two years.”
“In reality, we on the right knew it was much less and constantly shrinking. [President Barack] Obama only decided that he would say it’s currently at two to three months once he wanted to sell how ‘good’ the Iran deal was,” he said. “On that, however, he has a point. Iran was believed to be two to three months away from a breakout nuclear-weapons option. They sold the [Iran deal] as something that would keep Iran one year away.”
“But again, the problem there is that it assumed Iran wasn’t cheating on the side of the agreement (and we know from Israel that they were and are) and Iran’s larger than allowed stockpiles of enriched uranium and more advanced centrifuges also shrink the breakout time.”
Bennet also said, “I think, very unfortunately, we’ve now been put in the position of putting the Iranians in the position to decide how provocative they want to be and where they want to draw the lines. And they’re not, surprisingly, being provocative.”
“The conventional threat they pose to Israel and the conventional threat they pose to the region and to the US . . . would be far worse backstopped by the possibility of their acquiring a nuclear weapon than not acquiring a nuclear weapon.
“Now we find ourselves in a position of their beginning to enrich again,” he continued. “We’ve also seen this daylight between ourselves and our allies who negotiated this deal.
“I don’t think any of that is good for the United States and for our strategic interests in the region.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency warned on Sept. 9 that Iran has been installing dozens of advanced centrifuges to accelerate uranium enrichment, violating the nuclear accord. In July, the IAEA confirmed that the regime surpassed the uranium-enrichment limit under the agreement.
Regarding whether he’d keep both the US embassy in Jerusalem, where it was relocated from Tel Aviv in May, 2018, and the US recognition of the Golan Heights from last March, Bennet said: “I’ll get back to you on the other two questions. I want to give you a considered answer.”
Bennet did not qualify for the Sept. 11 Democratic presidential primary debate.