Lawmakers Push Back Against Biden Effort to Close Probe Into Iranian Nuclear Sites

Biden making ‘grave mistake’ by ignoring Iranian nuclear infractions

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (Getty Images)
August 31, 2022

Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress are pushing back against an effort by the Biden administration and its European partners to nix an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into Iran’s atomic weapons program as part of concessions meant to entice Iran into signing a new nuclear agreement.

Five Republican lawmakers led by Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) wrote to the IAEA that its probe should continue until it has sufficient answers from Iran about its atomic weapons program. Iran has blocked IAEA inspectors from accessing its contested nuclear sites for years, with the international organization disclosing possible Iranian violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as recently as last week. Iran has also removed cameras that monitor its nuclear sites.

With outstanding concerns yet to be addressed, the Biden administration and its European allies "are considering acquiescing to Iran’s demand that the IAEA’s ongoing safeguards probe be terminated before the nuclear deal can be revived," the lawmakers wrote Wednesday, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "This probe should be terminated only when all outstanding technical issues and concerns have been addressed and sufficiently resolved."

As negotiations over a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal reach their final stage, questions still remain about how close Iran is to building a nuclear weapon. It has been stockpiling highly enriched uranium—the key component in a bomb—while building out secret military bunkers suspected to house its weapons program. As part of the new nuclear deal, Iran will not be forced to disclose the nature of this work and will be given a greenlight to continue some of its most contested nuclear work, such as the joint construction with Russia of new nuclear reactors.

While the Biden administration said as recently as last week the IAEA’s probe must continue outside of a new accord, it appears to have walked back this demand in order to push the deal to the finish line. The issue remains one of the final sticking points in talks, with Iran saying it will not implement the deal so long as the investigation remains open.

The IAEA must not cave to the Biden administration’s political pressure to give Iran a pass, the lawmakers write.

"The IAEA’s important safeguards work should not be impacted by outside negotiations, and the IAEA should continue its technical work in the same professional and impartial manner as it always has under your leadership," states the letter, which was also signed by Reps. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), Ann Wagner (R., Mo.), Chris Smith (R., N.J.), Randy Weber (R., Texas). "We urge you to resist pressure to draw this vitally important investigation to an end solely for the sake of political expediency."

Iranian officials said on Tuesday that they will not consent to the IAEA’s inspections, calling them "excessive." The battle between Tehran and the IAEA has been percolating for many months as the Biden administration works on finalizing a new deal. The ongoing discussions have given Iran cover to bar access to the IAEA.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that there will be no new nuclear deal as long as the IAEA’s probe continues. "Without settlement of safeguard issues, speaking about an agreement has no meaning," Raisi said, referring to concerns by the IAEA about radioactive materials it found in Iran that could indicate a nuclear weapon.

"Joe Biden is willing to jeopardize our national security and the credibility of the entire nuclear non-proliferation architecture in his misguided and irresponsible rush to rejoin the failed nuclear deal with Iran," Tenney told the Free Beacon. "Iran violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by hiding nuclear sites from IAEA inspectors and since 2018, it has continued to stonewall investigators and conceal key information about its nuclear program. It is malpractice for Joe Biden to even consider a deal with Iran while it continues to violate international law and hide information about its nuclear program."

The IAEA’s Board of Governors, a political body, has also said the probe could end, according to the Republican lawmakers.

"We understand that the IAEA’s Board of Governors could ignore the IAEA’s technical expertise and professional assessment to make the ill-advised decision of closing this file even if Iran continues to stonewall," they wrote.

Doing this, they add, "would be deeply irresponsible." In order to maintain "the legitimacy of the IAEA, a priority we know you hold dear, we urge you to act in the coming weeks based on the technical facts and not the political winds."