Republican lawmakers in Congress are fed up with the Biden administration's secret diplomacy with Iran and refusal to inform the American public about what concessions will be granted to the world's foremost sponsor of terrorism as part of a new nuclear deal.
With negotiations stuck in their final stage amid Iran's demands that all U.S. sanctions be lifted on its chief terrorist outfit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Republican foreign policy leaders are pressing top Biden administration officials to publicly brief Congress on the state of diplomatic talks.
"With uncertainty surrounding the status of the negotiation, the American people have a right to know what their diplomats agreed to in Vienna, what alternatives your administration is considering, and how you intend to address the wider range of threats from Iran—including its increasingly dangerous missile and drone programs and taking American hostages," a group of Republican lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees wrote in a letter sent on Wednesday to the White House and obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.
The secrecy surrounding the talks—and Iran's demands for billions of dollars in sanctions relief that will likely fund its regional terrorism enterprise—are unacceptable and hint that the Biden administration is poised to enter a deal that is weaker than the original 2015 accord, according to Republican representatives Claudia Tenney (N.Y.), María Elvira Salazar (Fla.), Greg Steube (Fla.), Ronny Jackson (Texas), and Don Bacon (Neb.).
During more than a year of negotiations, the Biden administration has refused to brief Congress in an open setting. Biden administration officials, including U.S.-Iran envoy Robert Malley, have only consented to classified briefings, unlike the Obama administration, which discussed the talks openly with lawmakers and the public. Classified briefings on the deal—which came after lawmakers from both parties chastised the administration for cutting Congress out of the negotiations—are no longer tolerable, Tenney and her colleagues say.
"To date only closed-door classified briefings have been provided to Congress. This is a start, but it is not enough. Special Envoy Robert Malley works for the American people, and he should answer to them," they wrote. "On behalf of the American people, we therefore urge you to ask these senior officials to appear before a public hearing to provide crucial transparency about your plans and efforts to prevent a nuclear Iran."
Since negotiations began last year, following the Trump administration's 2018 withdrawal from the nuclear accord, Iran has orchestrated scores of terror attacks on U.S. outposts, citizens, and allies in the region. Still, the Biden administration is considering lifting the U.S. terror designation on the IRGC, which is responsible for many of these attacks and has killed hundreds of Americans.
Iran "is engaged in hostage diplomacy, and its growing nuclear program has already advanced far beyond what was allowed by the original nuclear deal," said Tenney. "While Iran continues to utilize its terrorist proxies … senior administration officials like Rob Malley are dodging questions from Congress and the American people by refusing to appear in public before the Foreign Affairs Committee. Today, I call on President Biden to ensure his administration is transparent with the American people."
It has become clear in recent months that the Biden administration stopped enforcing U.S. sanctions on Iran's oil exports, providing the hardline regime with billions of dollars in revenue before a deal is done. China, for instance, has imported $22 billion worth of sanctioned Iranian crude oil since President Joe Biden took office.
The United States also dropped some nuclear sanctions, allowing countries like China and Russia to build out portions of Tehran's nuclear infrastructure—a move that was seen as a preemptive concession to Iran to cajole it into accepting a new deal.
"A new nuclear agreement with Iran has serious implications for U.S. national security. The administration owes the American people and their representatives in Congress an account of the current state-of-play of negotiations, when it will conclude those talks have failed, and what it will do next to protect the United States and its partners from the Iranian threat. I applaud Rep. Tenney and the cosigners of the letter for urging the administration to testify publicly about its Iran nuclear policy," said Mike Makovsky, president and CEO of Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
Much of the Biden administration's diplomacy remains a secret and is taking place behind closed doors in Vienna, where Russia is serving as the United States' top interlocutor even as it wages an unprovoked war in Ukraine.
The State Department has told the Free Beacon it refuses to "negotiate in public" and is keeping the terms of a deal private until the deal is announced. During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also declined a senator's request to have Malley testify publicly about the deal, infuriating GOP officials present at the hearing, according to sources who spoke to the Free Beacon.
A public briefing on the deal is "even more pressing, given the serious U.S. national security risks of a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and recent Iranian attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq," the Republican lawmakers write, referring to the 2015 nuclear accord by its official acronym. "We call upon your administration to uphold its commitments and testify openly on negotiations in front of the full House Foreign Affairs Committee immediately, before any deal is agreed in Vienna or talks collapse."
Update April 27, 9:34 a.m.: This piece has been updated with comment from Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) and Jewish Institute for National Security of America president Mike Makovsky.