The Biden administration is withholding a "secret agreement" with Iran from Congress as negotiations over a revamped nuclear deal continue in Vienna, according to two Republican lawmakers.
Reports emerged late Friday that Russia proposed an interim nuclear deal to Iran with the knowledge of U.S. officials. The deal would reportedly lift some sanctions on Iran in exchange for a limited set of restrictions on the country’s nuclear program. Russia offered the deal to Iran on the sidelines of ongoing negotiations in Vienna, according to NBC News, which first reported on the document. Tehran is said to have rejected the interim deal, saying that it prefers a large-scale agreement that will provide it with billions in cash windfalls. Republican lawmakers say details of the agreement are being kept from Congress.
"Russia sent a secret agreement to Iran," Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon on Friday during a press call. "Russia is trying to take the lead now in the negotiations with Iran. This is a secret agreement. We haven’t seen it."
The existence of this document indicates that the United States and international partners are eyeing an alternative interim agreement with Iran as efforts to ink a revamped version of the 2015 accord stall due to Iran’s increasingly hardline stance. Republicans in Congress say that, during the past year, the Biden administration has ignored requests for briefings on the status of talks and what a new deal will look like. The Free Beacon first reported last week that the Biden administration is obstructing more than a dozen congressional investigations into the negotiations and sanctions relief.
The Biden administration is required to present any new deal to Congress before it is signed due to a 2015 law, the Iran Nuclear Deal Review Act, that was passed after the Obama administration skirted congressional oversight to sign the original accord.
"Reports that the Biden administration is working with the Russians on a secret nuclear agreement with Iran are doubly concerning," Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon. "First, they create a conflict of interest with Russia as we are trying to prevent an invasion of Ukraine. Second, preemptive sanctions relief, and failure to transmit an interim agreement to Congress, would violate the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. The administration needs to end their simultaneous surrender to Russia and Iran before it's too late."
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.), chair of the House Republican Conference, said during Friday’s call that the Biden administration is more secretive about negotiations than the Obama administration.
"In the Obama era they tried to communicate with members of Congress to try to convince us—they didn’t—that it was a good deal," Stefanik said. "But there has been virtually no communication with the Biden admin and House Republicans on important committees related to this issue."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during a Friday press conference after a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, said the United States hopes that Moscow will use its influence with Iran to push it into accepting a new deal.
"I have to say that Russia shares our sense of urgency, the need to see if we can come back into mutual compliance in the weeks ahead," Blinken said. "And we hope that Russia will use the influence that it has and relationship that it has with Iran to impress upon Iran that sense of urgency, and equally, that if we’re unable to do that because Iran refuses to undertake the obligations that are necessary, that we will pursue a different path in dealing with the danger posed by Iran’s renewed nuclear program."
McCaul also disclosed on the press call that unclassified estimates indicate Iran is "on the cusp of their enrichment to nuclear grade" material and will have a functional "nuclear bomb within the next year to a year and a half."
As negotiations took place during the past year, Iran amplified its enrichment of uranium—the key component in an atomic bomb—to historically high levels. It also has continued work on ballistic missiles and other advanced equipment that can supplement its nuclear program.
If a new deal with the United States is reached, Iran will see all economic sanctions imposed on it by the Trump administration removed. This includes sanctions on Iran’s oil sector, a key source of cash for the regime.