GOP Lawmakers Concerned Biden Removed Sanctions To Appease Iran

Administration relaxed sanctions on entities tied to Iran's ballistic missile program as nuclear negotiations stalled

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)
October 21, 2021

A group of 33 Republican lawmakers launched an investigation on Thursday into the Biden administration’s decision to remove sanctions earlier this month on entities tied to Iran’s illicit ballistic missile program.

Congressional Republicans suspect the Biden Treasury Department’s decision is part of a package of concessions meant to entice Iran into resuming negotiations aimed at securing a return to the nuclear deal—though senior U.S. officials dispute this claim, saying that the sanctions were removed following an internal legal review. Diplomatic talks with Iran have stalled since the regime inaugurated a new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, who demanded America drop all sanctions on the regime before discussions continue. The Biden administration’s Iran envoy, Robert Malley, said last week that the United States is "prepared to remove all of the sanctions that were imposed by the Trump administration."

The Treasury Department on Oct. 8 removed sanctions on Mammut Industrial Group and affiliated entities that were designated by the Trump administration as "key producers and suppliers of military-grade, dual-use goods for Iran’s missile programs." Iran’s ballistic missile program, which is the largest in the Middle East and capable of carrying a nuclear payload, has long been a source of international concern. It was heavily sanctioned prior to the 2015 nuclear agreement and again after former president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

The Republican lawmakers—led by Reps. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.), Jim Banks (R., Ind.), and Joe Wilson (R., S.C.)—are demanding the Treasury and State Departments prove that Mammut and its affiliated networks are no longer engaged in sanctionable activity that could aid Iran’s missile development.

"We are committed to investigating all sanctions relief provided to Iran and its allies and working to thwart the regime’s long-range strike capabilities," the lawmakers write, according to a copy of the letter exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "We would like you to verify that the delisted entities are no longer engaged in sanctionable conduct under U.S. law, we also ask what other steps the U.S. government is taking to impede Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities, which pose a grave risk to U.S. forces, facilities, and personnel in the Middle East, as well as key regional allies like Israel."

The letter gives the Biden administration 15 days to provide Congress with this information. The ballistic missile probe is part of a larger effort by the Republican Study Committee, the largest Republican caucus in Congress, to expose what they say is the administration’s secret dealings with Iran. Parallel RSC investigations are being conducted surrounding rumored sanctions relief for Iran’s banking and oil sectors.

"The recent decision to delist entities closely tied with Iran’s ballistic missile program raises serious national security concerns," Rep. Steil told the Free Beacon. "We must continue to investigate any sanctions relief provided to Iran, and its allies, to ensure we are combating terrorism in the region and thwarting the regime’s ballistic missile capabilities."

The delisting of Mammut Industries and its associates follows a decision by the Biden administration in July to remove sanctions on three managers who worked for the company and were designated during the Trump administration for aiding Iran’s missile program.

A State Department spokesman would not comment on the GOP letter, but told the Free Beacon the "delistings were an administrative action and do not reflect any change in U.S. government sanctions policy towards Iran. They have nothing to do with JCPOA negotiation efforts," the official said, referring to the nuclear deal by its official acronym.

When asked for comment on the matter, a Treasury Department spokesman referred the Free Beacon to recent testimony by Treasury Deputy Secretary Wally Adeyemo, who informed lawmakers that sanctions were removed after lawyers for Mammut disputed the legality of the designations.

Following a legal review, the Treasury Department removed the sanctions.

Adeyemo also told senators the removal of sanctions on Mammut was in no way tied to the administration’s ongoing diplomacy with Iran.

"This was not a response to a change in administration policy but, rather, in response to legal actions that were taking place," Adeyemo said in his testimony after lawmakers raised concerns about the issue. "I want to make clear that this was not a concession but, rather, in response to a legal action."

Erich Ferrari, a lead lawyer with Ferrari & Associates, the firm representing Mammut, confirmed on Twitter that he has been engaged in a review process with the Treasury Department regarding the legality of the sanctions. Ferrari said on Twitter after the sanctions were dropped that the administration’s decision was "not a political action, it’s one that followed established legal processes and norms."

Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the addition and subsequent removal of Mammut from the U.S. sanctions list raises questions about the efficacy of the Treasury Department’s enforcement.

"The implications surrounding the recent delisting is not healthy to have for U.S. sanctions policy," Ben Taleblu said. "The delisting, which was pursuant to a legal filing from November 2020, seems to imply that either there was insufficient evidence for the original listing in 2020 or that the delisting in 2021 may have been influenced by current U.S. policy."

The issue also raises larger concerns about what the Biden administration is "doing to combat Iran's evolving ballistic missile aptitudes and the network of people, banks, and businesses supporting Iranian missile procurement, production, and proliferation," Ben Taleblu said.