GOP Legislative Push Seeks to Stop Biden Admin from Unraveling Iran Sanctions

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February 5, 2021

A legislative push by congressional Republicans seeks to tie the Biden administration’s hands as it pursues diplomacy with Iran and would codify in law a range of tough economic sanctions on Tehran’s global terrorism enterprise.

The three new bills put forward by the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus in Congress, would make it difficult for the Biden administration to unilaterally lift sanctions on Iran as part of any effort to entice Tehran back to the negotiating table over its growing nuclear program, according to a copy of the legislative package obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. The bills represent the opening salvo in the GOP’s efforts to stop Biden from rejoining the nuclear deal and providing Tehran with potentially billions in cash windfalls. The Biden administration says it will only rejoin the agreement if Tehran agrees to scale back its nuclear work.

The RSC’s 160 members says they will stand against sanctions relief for Iran until it ends its support for regional terror groups and rolls back its nuclear program, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently disclosed is potentially just "a matter of weeks" away from producing an atomic weapon. While the bills are not guaranteed to pass in the Democrat-controlled House, Republicans say they intend to force their Democratic colleagues to publicly vote in favor of sanctions relief for Iran.

"Rejoining the failed Iran deal means funding terrorists that will do us harm, period," Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the RSC’s chairman, told the Washington Free Beacon. "It also means lifting President Trump’s sanctions preventing China and Russia from selling arms to Iran. It’s not only a dangerous idea, but also against common sense."

Biden and Blinken "have promised to go down this path and fast," necessitating that Republican leaders stand up for the former administration’s "successful maximum pressure campaign" on Iran, Banks said.

The first bill, authored by Rep. Tony Gonzales (R., Texas), prohibits the Biden administration from reentering the nuclear deal until it can legally certify that doing so will not provide sanctions relief or cash assets to any Iranian tied to terrorism. It would also block sanctions relief to Iranian officials involved in gross human-rights violations, including Tehran’s violent crackdown on dissidents and other democratic protesters.

The second bill, authored by Rep. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.), would prohibit the United States from granting licenses and waivers to any entity or individual currently sanctioned for supporting Iran’s global terrorism enterprise. The Biden administration would only be able to skirt these regulations if it can legally certify to Congress that Iran is no longer supporting terrorism, a nearly impossible declaration given Tehran’s continued support for Hamas, Hezbollah, and terrorist forces in Yemen, among other places.

The bill is meant to send a clear message to the Biden administration that sanctions on Iran cannot be bypassed by executive orders or sanctions waivers, which exempt entities from U.S. sanctions currently in place.

Late last month, the Biden administration issued a general license authorizing transactions with the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, which were designated as a terror group in the Trump administration’s final days. This essentially skirted the former administration’s terror designation and made those sanctions unenforceable. Steil says his bill would prevent the Biden administration from further using these sorts of licenses and exemptions to skirt and nullify Trump-era sanctions.

"I am deeply concerned that the Biden administration could abuse humanitarian waivers to provide sanctions relief regardless of the regime’s terrorist activities," Steil told the Free Beacon. "Using this loophole, the Biden administration will appear tough on Iran by not formally lifting sanctions, while simultaneously allowing transactions that financially support Iran’s pursuit of terrorism." Steil’s bill aims to close these loopholes and would force the administration to provide Congress with guarantees Iran is not supporting terrorism.

The third piece of legislation, authored by Rep. Don Bacon (R., Neb.), would formally codify the Trump administration’s decision to sanction Russian and Chinese arms sales to Iran. The bill would lock these sanctions in place and stop the Biden administration from lifting arms restrictions on Iran as part of a revamped nuclear agreement. A new deal would pave the way for the United Nations and European powers to further roll back a longstanding U.N. arms ban on Iran—which lapsed last year—but if Bacon’s legislation is passed, it would be nearly impossible for the United States to go along with such a scenario.

"One thing we can all agree on is that countries like Russia and China should not be selling weapons to the world’s top exporter of terrorism," Bacon told the Free Beacon, noting the decades of "strong bipartisan consensus on the need to restrict the transfer of conventional arms to and from Iran."

The legislative proposals were accompanied by a letter signed by 50 GOP House members warning the Biden administration against lifting sanctions on Iran.