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Senator Warns Biden Admin Against Skirting Congress on New Iran Deal

Hagerty demands details on efforts to provide Tehran with sanctions relief

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) talks with US Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty as he arrives in Osaka on June 27, 2019, ahead of the G20 summit. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
• March 17, 2021 1:51 pm

A Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is demanding the Biden administration inform Congress about its efforts to negotiate a revamped nuclear deal with Iran, including details about any plans to provide Tehran with potentially billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.) wants the Biden administration to provide guarantees that it will consult with Congress before reentering the 2015 nuclear accord, which former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. The State Department has yet to provide lawmakers with an in-depth briefing about its diplomatic overtures to Iran, generating concerns that President Joe Biden will circumvent Congress in the same way the Obama administration did as it negotiated and finalized the original deal.

Hagerty points to a recent string of Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East as evidence the "regime is testing your Administration’s resolve on defending U.S. national security interests and our allies," according to a copy of the letter sent on Wednesday to Biden. Hagerty says these attacks highlight "how important it is for the United States to maintain—and expand—maximum pressure against the terror-sponsoring Iranian regime precisely to deny it the resources that it needs to fund its regional war machine."

The letter is just the latest in a series of overtures to the Biden administration by GOP lawmakers who are hoping to convince the White House to reconsider its diplomacy with Iran. They see the administration as rushing into talks that will ultimately spark a series of U.S. concessions aimed at relaxing sanctions. Already, Iranian leaders have demanded full-scale sanctions relief as a precondition for direct talks about a new nuclear deal.

The Biden administration appears to be giving in to these demands: Recent reports indicate the U.S. waived sanctions so that South Korea could pay Iran $1 billion as part of a ransom payment after Tehran seized an oil tanker belonging to that country. The Biden administration also waived international sanctions on Iran that were applied by the Trump administration via the United Nations. These decisions are aimed at enticing Tehran back to the bargaining table.

Amid these efforts, GOP foreign policy leaders in Congress have been mostly left in the dark. U.S.-Iran Envoy Robert Malley has yet to make himself available for congressional briefings, even as he holds talks with China and other countries about rejoining the nuclear deal.

Hagerty is demanding several assurances from the Biden administration, such as "submitting to Congress any decision to participate again in the [nuclear deal], including any related effort to provide sanctions relief to the Iranian regime, for congressional review under the bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015," which gave Congress the right to review any agreement reached through negotiations with Iran and European powers.

Hagerty also asks the administration why it would "consider it in the U.S. national security interest to offer the Iranian regime sanctions relief at this time, particularly given the strong likelihood that Tehran will use increased revenue to boost funding for its military, militant proxies, and terrorist proxies?"

Lastly, the senator asks the administration to outline the steps it is taking "to help our allies in the Middle East defend themselves against the Iranian regime’s increasing military aggression against them," particularly Israel, which opposes U.S. efforts to rejoin the accord.