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Biden Admin Undeterred in Nuclear Talks After Iran Attacks US Outpost in Iraq

Former Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and John Kerry (Don Emmert/AFP via Getty Images)
• March 15, 2022 2:00 pm

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The Biden administration is pressing forward with its efforts to secure a new nuclear deal with Iran, even after Tehran over the weekend launched a dozen ballistic missiles at American sites in Iraq. The administration's decision to "shrug off the attack" is generating outrage on Capitol Hill among Republican lawmakers who say negotiations with Iran should be halted.

Reps. Jim Banks (R., Ind.) and Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), members of the House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, pressed the White House in a letter sent Tuesday, demanding to know why Iran's latest attacks are being met with silence. Both lawmakers serve as leaders at the Republican Study Committee, Congress's largest conservative caucus and a primary vehicle for Republican efforts to oppose the new nuclear deal.

"Shockingly, your administration's senior national security and foreign policy officials shrugged off the attack," the lawmakers write, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "They claimed it did not target the U.S consulate and suggested that the negotiations in Vienna would continue unscathed."

"The recent erosion of U.S. military deterrence against Iran is alarming," they say. "Inaction in response to Iran's provocation would invite Tehran to continue escalating its malicious behavior towards the United States and its regional allies."

In one of its more lethal attacks in recent memory, Iran during the weekend launched a dozen ballistic missile at multiple sites in northern Iraq, including at the new U.S. consulate facility in the region. The attack was condemned by the Biden administration, but the White House did not issue any new sanctions on Tehran or respond militarily.

Banks and Wilson accuse the Biden administration of turning a blind eye to these attacks as it tries to secure a new nuclear deal with Iran that will provide the regime with billions of dollars in cash windfalls and remove sanctions on the groups that conduct these strikes.

"Joe Biden isn't just negotiating with terrorists," Banks told the Free Beacon. "He's sending them billions in aid after they launched rockets near a U.S. consulate. Biden is shredding our credibility abroad and he's isolating himself at home too."

"Even many House Democrats are privately shaking their heads over Biden's obsession with helping Iranian terrorists," he said.

The lawmakers want the Biden administration to explain how it is working to counter Iran's malign activities and why nuclear negotiations continue amid a flurry of Iranian-orchestrated terror attacks.

"Why is your administration continuing negotiating with Iran after the attack, what is your redline to walk away from the Vienna talks?" they ask the president. "How is your administration planning to address Iran's non-nuclear malign behavior in general, as you are focused on reviving the nuclear deal?"

In their letter, Banks and Wilson describe the latest strike as a "significant escalation" by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country's paramilitary fighting force, which was first sanctioned by the Trump administration. If a new nuclear deal with Iran is approved, sanctions on the IRGC will evaporate almost overnight. Sanctions relief will also help the IRGC fund its regional military efforts, including support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas.

"This attack demonstrates that Tehran fears neither a substantive U.S. military pushback, nor a breakdown in nuclear negotiations aiming to restore a lesser version of the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action," the lawmakers write.

There are also mounting concerns that Russia and China—the primary interlocutors in negotiations—are using the talks as a pathway to increase their military and nuclear trade with Iran. Already, the Biden administration has waived sanctions so that both countries can build out Iran's civilian nuclear program. The final version of the deal will go even further, allowing Moscow and Beijing to formalize their military alliance with Tehran and arm the regime with advanced weaponry.

"Providing the world's foremost state sponsor of terror with sanctions relief and a pathway to not only nuclear enrichment at an industrial scale, but also a pathway to develop, test, and transfer missiles with impunity would be a grave mistake under normal circumstances," Banks and Wilson write. "Continuing on this course as though Iran's attack is immaterial will end in catastrophe."

Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, said that ignoring Iran's latest strikes "will only guarantee that Iran uses the weapons again, and soon."

"Iran is increasingly launching ballistic missiles from its territory and publicizing it because of the lack of fear of a kinetic reprisal," he said. "Continuing along with nuclear negotiations that offers Iran an opportunity to further improve its ballistic missile program is a strategic mistake."

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.