New Bill Would Mandate Congress Approve Any Sanctions Relief for Iran

Pressure mounts as GOP moves to prevent Biden admin from cutting Congress out of new Iran deal

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February 26, 2021

New legislation being circulated by Republican Senate leaders would handicap the Biden administration’s renewed diplomacy with Iran by requiring that Congress approve any effort to provide the regime with economic sanctions relief as part of a revamped nuclear deal, according to a copy of the measure obtained exclusively by the Washington Free Beacon.

The bill marks a major legislative shot across the bow by Senate Republicans as the Biden administration pursues direct negotiations with Iran about reentering the 2015 nuclear accord. Iranian leaders are already demanding the United States provide it with billions of dollars in sanctions relief and cash assets before it agrees to bring its growing nuclear program back in compliance with the accord. The new legislation would mandate the Biden administration go to Congress for approval of any sanctions relief package, potentially complicating efforts by the White House to skirt Congress as it negotiates with Tehran.

The Iran Sanctions Relief Review Act of 2021, authored by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R., Tenn.), a member of the Banking Committee and Foreign Relations Committee, already has the backing of 20 Senate Republicans, including Tom Cotton (Ark.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Cornyn (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Ben Sasse (Neb.), among others.

The bill is just the latest effort in a broadening campaign by Republican lawmakers to stop the Biden administration from rushing into a deal that a significant portion of congressional leaders oppose. Rep. Tim Burchett (R., Tenn.), for instance, petitioned the State Department on Thursday to provide lawmakers with information about secret talks between U.S.-Iran envoy Robert Malley and Chinese leaders, as the Free Beacon first reported.

Earlier in the week, GOP lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee warned the Biden administration against lifting sanctions on Iran before it agrees to unwind its nuclear program, which has advanced significantly in recent months as Iran stockpiles uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon. Malley has yet to brief any Republican foreign policy leaders on his diplomatic efforts despite repeated calls for him to do so. Republicans in both chambers scolded the State Department for refusing to brief them on these recent diplomatic overtures.

Hagerty and his Republican colleagues say their legislation is a direct response to the Obama administration’s efforts to skirt congressional oversight as it negotiated the 2015 deal, which former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. The White House is already facing significant Republican opposition to its diplomacy, which critics say benefits Tehran at a time when it continues to sponsor terrorism and target U.S. forces operating in the region.

"It is critical that Congress proactively serve as a check on the Biden administration’s irresponsible and dangerous appeasement efforts, especially as Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime continues to back aggression against Americans abroad," Hagerty told the Free Beacon. "The United States cannot fall victim again to Tehran’s blackmail, bribery, and extortion by giving into its demands for sanctions relief."

The sanctions legislation, Hagerty said, is meant to "ensure that Congress will have its say before the Biden administration takes actions that jeopardize the security of the United States, Israel, and our Arab partners in the Middle East."

Already, the administration has signaled that it is ready to ease crippling U.S. sanctions on Iran. It already informed the United Nations it is withdrawing the Trump administration's decision to reimpose all international sanctions on the Islamic Republic, paving the way for a ban on Iranian arms sales to expire. Restrictions on Iranian officials at the U.N. building in New York City also have been relaxed by the administration, another move seen as part of a package of concessions meant to entice Iran back to the bargaining table.