The Biden administration's new nuclear deal with Iran includes a "quid pro quo" with Russia that will enable it to make billions of dollars performing otherwise sanctioned work on Tehran's nuclear sites, according to Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Issa and other Republican foreign policy voices are galvanizing in opposition to the soon-to-be-announced deal following a classified briefing for HFAC members held late last week. Lawmakers who attended the closed-door session were provided with a readout on the current state of negotiations by U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Brett McGurk, White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa.
Issa, who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon following the classified brief, would not discuss its contents but said it is clear the Biden administration will waive sanctions that have stopped Russia from building out portions of Iran's contested nuclear infrastructure, describing this carveout as a "quid pro quo" with Moscow.
"Biden is managing to pull off an incredible feat: Help Iran go nuclear and help Russia get rich helping them do it," Issa told the Free Beacon. "No question about it. This is a quid pro quo the administration has negotiated with the Iranians and Russians that Biden intends to deliver by executive fiat."
The Free Beacon first reported last week that Iran has a $10 billion contract with Russia's state-controlled energy firm, Rosatom, that will see Moscow construct new portions of Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant. Trump administration sanctions stopped this work, but as part of the new nuclear agreement, these sanctions will be lifted so the work can go ahead. Already, the Biden administration has waived certain sanctions that blocked Russia, China, and others from engaging in nuclear work with Iran.
The concessions to Russia and Iran have sparked widespread outrage from Republican lawmakers, who accuse the Biden administration of gifting Russia with sanctions relief even as it wages an unprovoked war in Ukraine. While the Biden administration has avoided briefing lawmakers during the course of its yearlong diplomacy with Iran, details are emerging that indicate the agreement will be weaker than the original 2015 accord.
"Contrary to what the administration said about this being stronger and better and more robust, it will be even worse," Issa said. "This is turning back on the switch to Iran's nuclear program."
Details of the classified briefing, which was held with HFAC on March 17, were relayed to the Free Beacon by a senior congressional source familiar with its contents. Both Republicans and Democrats who attended the briefing expressed concerns that the new agreement will do little to restrict Iran's nuclear program, while lifting sanctions that will enrich Moscow.
"Among the Foreign Affairs Committee there was an overwhelming majority against it, including a number of Democrats," said the congressional source, who requested anonymity to discuss details of a secret briefing.
It also is becoming clear that the Biden administration will either circumvent Congress to ink the deal—in violation of a 2015 law mandating an agreement with Iran be first approved by Congress—or limit the time lawmakers have to review it.
Malley and McGurk were "evasive" during the briefing when faced with questions about whether the administration will give Congress the time it needs to fully review the deal and vote on it, according to the congressional source.
Issa also told the Free Beacon that he suspects Democratic leadership will limit the time allowed to consider the agreement and its impact.
"The Congress needs a real vote, but [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi is primed to stifle it. If it hits before Thanksgiving, they're going to create a very narrow window for the House and Senate to potentially vote on it," Issa explained. "The idea that they could actually run out the clock on the 30 days is very real. The narrowest interpretation is they could drop it as we leave for the August recess, so Pelosi would achieve what she wants: Make sure Democrats don't have to vote for something overwhelmingly unpopular."
Issa and Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) are spearheading legislation that would bar the Biden administration from lifting sanctions that enable Russian and Chinese nuclear work in Iran, as the Free Beacon first reported last week.
The State Department confirmed that, as part of the upcoming deal, the United States is prepared to waive sanctions on Russia's nuclear work in Iran.
The United States will "not sanction Russian participation in nuclear projects that are part of resuming full implementation of the JCPOA," such as work on Iran's civilian nuclear program, a State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon last week. "The United States will take actions as necessary to ensure that U.S. sanctions do not apply to the implementation of JCPOA nuclear-related projects and activities by non-U.S. individuals and entities." The JCPOA, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is the official acronym for the 2015 Iran deal.