(RNS) – When President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, the Religious Society of Friends – the proper name of the denomination known as the Quakers – knew how bad the decision was. perilous. As a faith community with a long tradition of working to prevent nuclear war and the proliferation of weapons, the Quakers understood the immense value that the pact provided.
The agreement was not perfect. It would not – and was not designed to – address all of the points of contention between the United States and Iran. But it blocked the way for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon while simultaneously reducing the risk of another war in the Middle East. Importantly, according to UN watchdogs, Iran has fulfilled its obligations under the agreement.
Then came President Trump’s withdrawal from the deal. From that moment on, tensions with Iran continued to escalate dangerously. In early 2020, the United States assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, an action deemed in violation of international law, and which resulted in an exchange of fire that risked plunging the two countries into war. The latest violence erupted in late June when the United States launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq.
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Diplomacy and peace remain possibilities, but they are hanging by a thread. If the United States is serious about achieving peace with Iran, then an early return to the nuclear deal is the place to start. But Congress must not erect new obstacles. As long as there is no agreement, we remain on the path of war and nuclear confrontation.
President Joe Biden, for his part, has said he wants to join the pact, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with modifications. Negotiators from the JCPOA signatories met in Vienna in hopes of reviving the deal. Gradual progress has been made, but officials have warned that talks cannot go on indefinitely.
The fragile state of these talks is compounded by other circumstances. In Congress, the Democratic Party platform officially approves a return to the Iran nuclear deal. Still, a few influential lawmakers have called on President Biden to join the JCPOA only if it is expanded to cover a number of non-nuclear issues, including human rights violations and support for armed non-state actors in the region.
These are issues of critical importance that must be addressed. But by drawing a new line in the sand, the United States could end up with no deal at all. The JCPOA was always meant to be the start of a new chapter, an entry point into diplomacy with Iran that would halt its march towards nuclear weapons. We can’t just close the book on the first page.
We have also seen what a world looks like without the Iran nuclear deal. Since our withdrawal, Iran has worked to reduce the “escape time” required to develop a nuclear weapon. Our abandonment of the JCPOA allowed Iran to get away with it.
In addition, the previous administration’s maximum pressure campaign, employed after the agreement was withdrawn, had dire consequences for the Iranians. The United States’ imposition of widespread and escalating sanctions has caused immense human suffering by destroying the Iranian economy and severely weakening Iran’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The indisputable truth is that maximum pressure turned out to be maximum failure. A quick return to the JCPOA is our best and only option for dealing with Iran.
In 2019, amid mounting tensions, I joined a group of Christian leaders in New York to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In 2007, my predecessor as FCNL Secretary General, Joe Volk, traveled to Iran to meet with then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to discuss the need for peaceful relations between our two countries. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has taken these steps because we know how precious peace is and how important it is for us to speak up in these uncertain times.
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Today, when the negotiations are at a crossroads, we are once again compelled to speak out. We urge President Biden to prioritize diplomacy over harsh rhetoric and maximum pressure, and we hope lawmakers on Capitol Hill will echo our calls.
Nuclear weapons are a threat to all mankind, no matter which country has them. Peace is more than the absence of war. Every day it takes hard and diligent work. Avoiding this is inviting more violence and uncertainty in an already busy international environment.
(Diane Randall is the secretary general of the Committee of Friends on National Law, a national, non-partisan Quaker lobby for peace, justice and the environment. The opinions expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)