GOP Probes Biden Admin for Lifting Iran Sanctions

Lawmakers say sanctions relief tied to bid for new nuclear deal

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: Representative Claudia Tenney, (R-NY), speaks during a hearing March 10, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Blinken is expected to take questions about the Biden administration’s priorities for U.S. foreign policy. (Photo by Ting Shen-Pool/Getty Images)
June 17, 2021

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are probing the Biden administration for lifting sanctions last week on Iran’s terrorism enterprise without first consulting Congress, a decision they say was meant to skirt oversight.

The administration’s decision to give in to Iranian demands for immediate sanctions relief is now the subject of a congressional review. The review could unearth evidence the State Department lifted sanctions as part of a package of concessions meant to appease Iranian officials, as U.S. diplomats negotiate a revamped nuclear agreement with Tehran, according to a a copy of congressional correspondence with the State Department obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.

Biden administration officials maintain the removal of sanctions late last week on several Iranian officials and businesses tied to the country’s illicit oil trade is not related to ongoing negotiations in Vienna. Republicans in Congress led by Rep. Claudia Tenney (N.Y.) say this is a lie and are now demanding the State Department come clean about any internal plans to provide Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief. They also blast Secretary of State Antony Blinken for breaking his promise to notify lawmakers in advance of any decision to lift sanctions.

The letter comes as GOP members in both the House and Senate investigate various aspects of the Biden administration’s talks with Iran, including sanctions relief, a rumored $1 billion payout to Tehran, and other diplomatic overtures that these lawmakers suspect are part of an effort to block congressional oversight. A parallel investigation into last week’s sanctions relief is being spearheaded by the Republican Study Committee, which has demanded the administration turn over scores of documents related to its contested decision.

"Why were committee members not made aware in advance of these high-profile delistings of Iranian targets?" 11 Republican HFAC members wrote in a Thursday letter addressed to Blinken. "Furthermore, why did you fail to inform either the House Foreign Affairs Committee or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of this pending action when you testified before these committees on June 7 and June 8, respectively?"

Tenney and her HFAC colleagues—including Reps. Joe Wilson (S.C.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Brian Mast (Fla.), and Tim Burchett (Tenn.), among others—ask the State Department to provide detailed information about any inter-administration discussions surrounding last week’s sanctions relief. This would include consultations that led the Treasury and State Departments to expedite and prioritize sanctions relief for Tehran.

"Given that Iran continues to support terrorism in the region, expand its nuclear program, and violate U.S. sanctions on exports of oil and petrochemicals, why have the Departments of State and the Treasury made the decision to prioritize the removal of Iranian sanctions violators over other competing priorities?" the lawmakers ask. "Who instructed career civil servants in both departments to pursue delisting these targets, and why?"

Typically, it can take weeks and months, if not longer, for the U.S. government to determine that a sanctioned entity should be granted a reprieve. It is unclear from the State and Treasury Department’s public comments on the latest sanctions relief how they determined that these entities were no longer violating U.S. sanctions. Iran continues to act as a chief funder for regional terror groups, including Hamas, and has redoubled these efforts in recent months.

The lawmakers demand the State Department prove these sanctions were not lifted as part of a behind-the-scenes bid to push negotiations over a deal further along.

Blinken and other senior Biden administration officials told Congress in March they would consult with lawmakers on any future sanctions relief for Iran. The administration also claimed that sanctions would not be lifted until Iran comes back into compliance with the original 2015 nuclear accord, which it has not done.

"You assured members that the United States would not offer concessions to Iran before it comes into full compliance," the lawmakers wrote. "Iran has certainly not resumed compliance. In fact, the regime has now increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to 60 percent," which is close to the levels needed for an atomic weapon.