Biden's Sanction Relief Will Fund Iranian Terror Plots, Former US Official Says

Biden will unwind sanctions on Tehran's assassination group as part of nuclear deal bid

Ayatollah Khamenei (Mohammad Sadegh Heydari/Wikimedia Commons)
August 22, 2022

The Biden administration's nuclear deal with Iran will lift sanctions on the hardline regime's government organization that funds assassination plots and puts bounties on the country's political enemies, according to a former U.S. official and Iranian government documents.

As part of the administration's efforts to secure a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal, the United States will unwind sanctions on an Iranian government organization called the 15 Khordad Foundation, which offers bounties for the assassination of Iran's political enemies. The foundation, for example, is behind the $3.3 million bounty on author Salman Rushdie's head, which is believed to have in part motivated the attacker who earlier this month stabbed Rushdie 10 times during a public appearance, nearly killing him.

"Biden's new Iran deal would lift sanctions on the very organizations raising bounties to kill Americans," said Gabriel Noronha, a former senior Iran adviser at the State Department during the Trump administration and now a distinguished fellow at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. "That will help Iran raise the funds to kill American dissidents and officials."

Noronha confirmed earlier this year with State Department officials that these sanctions will be lifted. Critics of the nuclear deal, including Republicans in Congress, say the Biden administration is incentivizing Iran's global terror campaign and endangering American assassination targets, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and former White House national security adviser John Bolton, who was recently the target of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The 15 Khordad Foundation is best known for its decades-long bounty on Rushdie, which increased from its initial $2 million reward to $2.5 million in 1997. It rose again in 1999 to $2.8 million and then in 2012 to its present-day $3.3 million, as the organization received increased funding. The foundation receives its budget and direction from Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei's office. Nearly 6 percent of the funds included in Iran's 2021-2022 national budget went to groups like the 15 Khordad Foundation, which are exempt from taxes, financial reporting rules, and anti-corruption regulations.

As of 1989, the 15 Khordad Foundation operates under a larger parent organization known as "Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order," or EIKO, which was formed to consolidate assets the regime stole from political prisoners and other targets, particularly persecuted members of the Baha'i faith. The 15 Khordad Foundation and its news releases appear as an entry on EIKO's main website. The foundation's head was one of three original EIKO directors appointed by then-supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini.

EIKO and its affiliates were first sanctioned in January 2021 by the Trump administration due to their corrupt dealings, ties to Khamenei, and persecution of the regime's political enemies. These sanctions are set to be lifted by the Biden administration if Iran agrees to a new deal, which is looking increasingly likely as the United States and its European Union allies finalize the text of a new agreement.

"Biden and his officials claim they are trying to protect Americans, but their concessions to Iran are doing the exact opposite," Noronha said. "If we lift sanctions on these organizations, it will send a message that this behavior of bounties and assassination plots can continue."

Iranian government documents that were translated and published last year by the National Union for Democracy in Iran indicate that the removal of these sanctions is being negotiated as part of the deal. U.S. officials earlier this year also confirmed the lifting of sanctions against EIKO, according to a report by Noronha published in Tablet. Leaks from Iranian negotiators last week also indicate that these sanctions could be lifted before the Biden administration submits a new nuclear deal to Congress, as is required by law.

"The problem is that a terror state has been embedded into the very fabric of the Iranian state. When you lift sanctions on Iran, you directly help fund terrorism," Noronha said. "The only way that ends is when the Iranian regime falls apart."

The 15 Khordad Foundation was formed in 1982 on direct order from Khomeini and was tasked with advancing the Islamic Republic's revolutionary ideology. It remains part of the Supreme Leader's Office.

The foundation's leader reiterated as recently as 2012 that the bounty on Rushdie is in force, saying in the country's state-controlled press, "The arrogance of the spiteful enemies of Islam, which is carried out under the banner of the great devil of America and the racist Zionists, can only be brought to a dead end by the resolute implementation of the ruling of Islam. … The blessed foundation of 15 Khordad was aimed at rooting out the anti-Islamic conspiracy … and whoever executes this death sentence will be paid the entire amount [$3.3 million] immediately."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), one of the most vocal opponents of a new nuclear deal, accused the Biden administration of helping finance Iran's global terror plots via sanctions relief.

"On top of all the catastrophic failures of the Iran deal, this current iteration would lift sanctions, which would enable Iran to finance and incite the murder of American officials and dissidents on American soil," Cruz told the Free Beacon. "By advancing this deal, the Biden administration would be incentivizing and encouraging Iran to carry out assassinations in the United States."