House GOP Rebukes Biden Admin for Sending 'Official Condolences' to Iran

Lawmakers demand 'full explanation' from White House after Biden admin extends sympathies to dead president

Raisi (Mark Segar/Reuters), Biden (Leah Millis/Reuters)
May 22, 2024

A coalition of 12 House Republicans on Wednesday rebuked the Biden administration for offering "official condolences" to Iran following the deaths of the Islamic Republic's president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash.

The letter comes after the State Department on Monday offered "official condolences for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister [Hossein] Amir-Abdollahian, and other members of their delegation in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran." The statement drew widespread GOP criticism due to Raisi's role in committing mass human rights abuses and implementing hardline policies that advocated "death to Israel" and "death to America."

"It is highly inappropriate for the United States to express condolences for an individual that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department and has extensive connections to terrorism," the group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.), wrote to the White House, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "The decision to express condolences for such an individual is shameful."

The rebuke by House GOP leaders highlights ongoing disagreement over U.S.-Iran policy under President Joe Biden. While the United States has mostly abandoned its bid to revive the 2015 nuclear accord, the Biden administration continues to waive economic sanctions that provide Tehran with access to upward of $10 billion in assets. The United States has also failed to enforce sanctions on Iran's oil trade, allowing the country's illicit exports to hit a five-year high with a value of around $90 billion.

Raisi, known as the "Butcher of Tehran," was a close ally of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and spearheaded hardline policies that included a brutal crackdown on democratic reformers who took to the streets from 2022 to 2023 to protest the regime's murder of a young woman who was not properly wearing her hijab.

Raisi was also the architect of a 1988 massacre in Iran that killed around 5,000 regime opponents. Raisi at the time served on the Iranian government's "death committee" that issued kill orders for scores of political opponents.

"President Raisi was a despotic tyrant whose rule directly led to the murder of thousands of innocent individuals and the maiming, repression, and subjugation of the Iranian people," the lawmakers wrote. "We demand a full explanation as to why the State Department would express condolences for the passing of such a despicable individual."

The U.S. government sanctioned Raisi in 2019 for gross human rights abuses and placed him on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, which is primarily reserved for terrorists.

"Under the Biden administration," the lawmakers note, "President Raisi has remained on the SDN List due to his extensive criminal behavior."

A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, said U.S. policy toward Iran remains unchanged in light of Raisi's and Amir-Abdollahian's deaths. Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, remains the country's leading political figure and is certain to continue directing the Islamic Republic's domestic and foreign policy as Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian are replaced.

"Our approach remains unchanged. The United States will continue to support the people of Iran and defend their human rights," the U.S. official said. "We will continue to confront the Iranian regime's support for terrorism, proliferation of dangerous weapons, and advancement of its nuclear program in ways that have no credible civilian purpose."