Classified Iran Nuclear Deal Brief Leaves ‘More Questions Than Answers,’ GOP Lawmaker Says

Biden Iran envoy grilled about preemptive sanctions relief for Tehran

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) / Getty Images
February 8, 2022

At least one Republican lawmaker was left with "more questions than answers" on Tuesday after Biden's Iran envoy Robert Malley provided his first classified briefing on Capitol Hill.

Malley, who until Tuesday had avoided testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee for more than a year as talks with Tehran took place, faced a flurry of questions from Republican lawmakers who are outraged by the White House’s decision late last week to grant Iran sanctions waivers so that countries like Russia and China can build out its civilian nuclear program.

Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.), a committee member, has been leading the charge to pressure Malley into testifying. She told the Free Beacon Tuesday afternoon that the classified briefing left her with "more questions than answers"—and that Malley must immediately testify in an open setting so that the American public can learn exactly what the United States has promised Iran in exchange for a new deal.

"Before today, Rob Malley had yet to appear before the full Foreign Affairs Committee, either publicly or in private, to answer our questions and explain to the American people why sanctions are not being fully enforced on Iran," Tenney said. "This briefing unfortunately left me with more questions than answers. While it was a start, it is still not enough."

Malley’s decision to appear before Congress for a briefing indicates that the United States is close to reentering the 2015 nuclear deal and providing Tehran with billions of dollars in cash assets. The talks have also generated scrutiny from Iran hawks in Congress as it becomes increasingly clear that China and Russia are taking the lead in pressing the United States to accept Iran’s demands for sanctions relief.

Tenney said she will continue to pressure Malley and the Biden administration to stop hiding details of its diplomacy with Iran from the American public.

"Rob Malley works for the American people, and he needs to answer to them as well," Tenney said. "That's why I’m continuing to press for a full, public hearing. On a matter as important to our national security as a nuclear Iran, maximum transparency is the only path forward."

One senior congressional aide briefed on the matter told the Free Beacon that the Biden administration is dodging Congress’s most pressing questions about the deal—such as how much cash will be given to Tehran and what the hardline regime will do in return.

During the past year as nuclear talks resumed, Iran has significantly escalated its contested nuclear program. It is enriching enough fissile material to fuel a bomb within a matter of weeks, according to the State Department. Iran also continues to hide its nuclear work from international inspectors and is preventing them from accessing sites that housed Tehran’s atomic weapons program.

"The Biden administration needs to answer the tough questions directly to the American people and stop dodging," said the senior congressional aide, who was not authorized to speak on record about the closed-door briefing.

"It’s clear that this administration’s plan is to cling to the failed nuclear deal, despite the severe risks and Iran’s own bad faith and behavior," the source said. "The United States went from a position of strength at the start of 2021, to one of total desperation today. We’ve said from the start that the hardliners in Iran are the ones driving this process and after today’s briefing, that continues to be our view. "

Meanwhile, Iran and its Chinese allies continue to demand the United States dismantle virtually all sanctions on Tehran’s economy and other sectors, including those controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s paramilitary fighting force that conducts terror attacks outside of the country’s borders.

"The Western side must make a serious and effective decision with regard to removing sanctions and demonstrate its meaningful departure from the failed policies of the previous U.S. administration," Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying in a Tuesday phone call with his Chinese counterpart that was published in Iran’s state-controlled press.