The Biden administration’s negotiations with Iran over a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal have hit a dead end, jeopardizing the likelihood of a new agreement, senior U.S. officials informed Congress during a classified briefing.
A deal seemed within reach earlier this month as U.S. officials presented Iran with a proposal that would significantly unwind economic sanctions and provide the regime with somewhere near one trillion dollars over the lifetime of the agreement. Iran, however, balked and negotiations are at a standstill, according to Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), who participated in the closed-door briefing held two weeks ago for members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Two weeks ago, they thought they had a deal, and now they know they don’t have a deal, and are stymied about how they get to a deal because they’ve negotiated all there was to negotiate, and, at the end of the day, Iran doesn’t want the deal that was negotiated," Issa told the Washington Free Beacon. Those details were also relayed by other congressional sources familiar with the briefing.
Biden administration officials were not optimistic about the prospects for a new deal. Officials told lawmakers, "We’ve negotiated for a year and a half through our good friend and honest broker Russia and we got the same thing that we should have expected, which is, they want a better deal than they had before, and if you don’t give them a better deal, then they don’t want a deal," according to Issa. "They’re basically on the eve of getting a nuclear weapon and don’t want to be talked out of it."
Issa’s comments jibe with the rhetoric coming from Iranian officials, who say the proposed deal does not go far enough in providing Tehran with sanctions relief and assurances that funds will keep flowing to the regime. Iran also wanted sanctions on several of its designated terrorist entities lifted, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which was designated as a terrorist organization by the Trump administration for its attacks on U.S. positions and allies in the region.
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Wednesday said that talks were "at a stage where there are just a couple of issues remaining on the table, but which are very significant and important."
"The issue of guarantees is very important to us," Amir-Abdollahian said. "The American side has taken some steps towards giving us guarantees. We just need these guarantees to become a little bit more complete."
Issa said the outstanding issues center around sanctions that target Iran’s terrorism enterprise.
"They want concessions as to their basic sanctions for being a terrorist state, and it’s a bridge that neither Republicans nor Democrats will allow them to cross," said Issa.
The Obama administration, during its talks in 2015, "got away with saying they weren’t giving up anything relative to the sanctions that occurred related to [Iran’s] terrorist activities," Issa said.
At this point, however, "it’s very clear that when you look on sanctions on the IRGC that came out of their Middle Eastern terror activities, that’s a line [the Iranians] clearly want and that I believe no administration can give it to them."
Some Democrats have become increasingly vocal about their concerns related to a new deal.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D., N.J.) led a bipartisan letter with 49 other lawmakers informing the Biden administration that they remain "deeply concerned about multiple provisions that reportedly may be contained in the final language of any agreement with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism."
The lawmakers said it would be impossible for Congress to accept any new deal that "could significantly dilute the effectiveness of terrorism-related sanctions on the IRGC, Iran’s paramilitary terror arm, and provides the organization with a pathway for sanctions evasion."
Issa, for his part, said he does not expect further negotiations to be productive, given Iran’s excessive demands.
Both sides "clearly negotiated to a completion, not some sort of standstill," Issa said.
"They ran out of new things to talk about and finally got to a point where it’s time to accept it," he said. "I believe [Iran] never negotiated in good faith, which means there’s really no reason to go back to them until there’s a huge change that shows why negotiations would be different."
A senior congressional source familiar with the briefing told the Free Beacon that negotiations should be shut down as a result of Iran’s crackdown on anti-regime protests, which are sweeping the country.
"In diplomacy as in business, the side that wants a deal will find their negotiating position only gets weaker and their number of concessions just keep piling up," the source said. "I can’t think of a worse time to negotiate with the regime than when it’s mowing down its people in the streets."
A State Department spokesman would not comment on the contents of the briefing when asked by the Free Beacon.
State Department spokesman Ned Price confirmed earlier this week that negotiations with Iran "are not in a healthy place right now" but that the United States is engaging diplomatically, even as protests continue across the country.
"We’ve made clear that while we have been sincere and steadfast in our efforts to see to it that Iran is once again permanently and verifiably barred from a nuclear weapon, we haven’t seen the Iranians make the decision, the Iranian government make the decision that it would need to make if it were to commit to a mutual return to compliance with the" nuclear deal, Price said.