A coalition of more than 100 Republican lawmakers is calling on the Biden administration to abandon negotiations with Iran aimed at securing a revamped nuclear agreement, according to a letter sent Wednesday to the State Department and obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.
"We write to urge you to immediately withdraw from the fruitless Vienna talks to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and instead strongly enforce existing sanctions against Iran, particularly with respect to the oil trade between Iran and the People's Republic of China," the lawmakers write in a letter spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul (R., Texas) and cosigned by 109 other lawmakers. "Further delay of action on this only further enables Iran's malign activities, including their aggressive nuclear pursuits."
The letter is a sign that Republicans are united against reentering the 2015 accord. It also comes as negotiations with Tehran drag into a second year, with the Iranian regime demanding further concessions from the Biden administration, including the full reversal of sanctions on the country's nuclear program and regional terrorism enterprise.
As diplomatic talks resume after months of delays, Iran has greatly expanded its nuclear program, including its enrichment of uranium, a main component in an atomic weapon. Iran is now enriching and stockpiling highly enriched uranium, which can only used for a bomb. This work has continued in the face of ongoing sanctions and opposition from the international community. Senior Biden administration officials have acknowledged in recent weeks that Iran is stalling negotiations while it advances its nuclear program.
"Iran is charging forward with its nuclear program, using advanced centrifuges and producing equipment for such centrifuges while stockpiling increasing quantities of uranium enriched at 20 percent and 60 percent purity," the GOP lawmakers write. "Iran also continues to gain irreversible knowledge through this nuclear work. While the Administration has consistently indicated a willingness to negotiate toward a return to the JCPOA, Iran has made a return even less valuable for the [international community] as it makes greater nuclear gains and gets closer to the deal's sunsets."
The letter notes that Iran also refuses to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency's oversight work, blocking inspectors and preventing them from accessing contested nuclear sites. Iran's intransigence is "further diminishing the world’s visibility on Iran's nuclear program," the lawmakers say.
Only increased sanctions and full enforcement of restrictions will stop Iran's march toward a nuclear weapon, not endless negotiations in Vienna, the lawmakers maintain.
Iran's illicit oil shipments, which skyrocketed in 2021 as China boosted its imports—as the Free Beacon first reported last week—are the latest flashpoint in the talks. The Biden administration says it is prepared to lift all sanctions on Iran's oil sector, drawing ire from Republicans who say this decision will give Iran access to billions of dollars in cash windfalls. In turn, the regime can use that money to fuel terror attacks on the United States and its allies in the region.
Republican lawmakers want the Biden administration to immediately issue new sanctions on Iran for its ongoing illicit oil shipments to China, Venezuela, Russia, and other countries. Iran is taking in at least $1.3 billion a month from these sales, the lawmakers disclose.
"Reports in November showed that [China] continued to import an average of over half a million barrels of Iranian oil per day," according to the Republicans. "It is well past time for the Administration to end these farcical negotiations and fully enforce our existing sanctions to slash this vital source of revenue for the Iranian regime."
Rep. Darell Issa (R., Calif.), a prominent critic of the accord, told the Free Beacon, "the Biden administration needs to let go of its dream of a White House signing ceremony with the Mullahs of Iran."
The State Department told the Free Beacon last week that it is prepared to waive all sanctions on Iran's oil program but that for now these sanctions are still being enforced—a claim that Republicans and watchdog groups dispute.
"We are engaging in meaningful diplomacy through the talks in Vienna to achieve a mutual return to compliance with JCPOA commitments, which would of course include lifting sanctions on Iranian oil exports," a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon.
The GOP leaders say in their letter that this strategy has not borne fruit and urge the Biden administration to reverse course and implement further sanctions.
As negotiations continue, there have been growing signs that the Biden administration is frustrated with Tehran's demands.
Iran envoy Robert Malley said in late December that "it seems very clear [Iran] is trying to build leverage by expanding their nuclear program and hoping to use that leverage to get a better deal."
State Department spokesman Ned Price said last month that Iran "has at best been dragging its feet in the talks while accelerating its nuclear escalation." The United States, Price said, is not seeing "sufficient urgency" from Tehran. "The last couple rounds also started with new nuclear provocations and then were characterized by, in some cases, vague, unrealistic, unconstructive positions on the part of Iran," Price said.
A State Department official, speaking only on background, said diplomacy with Iran is the best way to roll back Iran's nuclear advances.
"We’ve seen Iran’s actions outside the framework of the JCPOA. It has opted to highly accelerate the development of its nuclear program without restraint," the State Department said, referring to the nuclear deal by its official acronym. "As of February 2021, Iran had 10 times the amount of enriched uranium permitted under the deal, and it has continued to produce more."
"The status quo without mutual compliance with the JCPOA is untenable," the official said. "That is why the State Department is pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA."
The State Department further vowed that, on President Joe Biden's watch, Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. "This administration believes that diplomacy, in coordination with our allies and regional partners, is the best path to achieve that goal," the official said.
Update 3:10 p.m.: This post has been updated to include comment from the State Department.