GOP Demands Biden Admin Commit to Sanctions on Iranian Human Rights Abuses

Lawmakers say Biden ignoring regime atrocities as it seeks new nuke deal

Iranian pro-democracy protesters in London / Getty Images
November 22, 2021

Republican foreign policy leaders in Congress are asking the Biden administration to turn over information about any steps it has taken to hold the Iranian regime accountable for human rights abuses, according to a letter sent late last week to the White House.

Rep. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and a coalition of his GOP colleagues want the Biden administration to provide direct assurances to Congress that it will not unwind human rights sanctions on Iran as part of any nuclear deal. While the administration has promised to unwind sanctions applied by the Trump administration, the lawmakers want to ensure that measures targeting the Iranian regime's sponsorship of terrorism and crimes against its people remain in place.

The lawmakers also want to know what the Biden administration has done to ensure that Iran's government is held accountable for its ongoing crackdown on civil rights, which includes the killing, torture, and detention of anti-regime protesters who in recent months have taken to the streets.

The letter comes less than a week after the two-year anniversary of Iran's brutal 2019 crackdown on protesters, which left 1,500 dead. A GOP-led House resolution filed last week sought to formally memorialize the incident, the Washington Free Beacon first reported. Republicans view the Biden administration as downplaying the Iranian government's human rights abuses to avoid offending Tehran as the president seeks a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear accord.

"Your administration has claimed that its foreign policy would be based on human rights and democracy. The people of Iran, who continue to contest the regime at every available opportunity, are similarly seeking human rights, democracy, and a government that represents their values and interests," the lawmakers write. "Given the gap between the people and the regime in Iran, we see standing with and supporting the Iranian people as not only a strategic imperative but also a moral one."

As the United States "prepares for indirect diplomacy with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program and issues such as sanctions relief, nuclear deal re-entry, and others gain prominence, the U.S. cannot afford to let human rights matters be ignored or moved to the back burner," the lawmakers write. "Providing sanctions relief to the world's foremost state-sponsor of terrorism would only mean empowering those who engage in domestic repression and foreign aggression."

In addition to Steil, the letter is backed by Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), Rep. Doug Lamalfa (R., Calif.), and Rep. Pat Fallon (R., Texas).

The lawmakers want to know what steps, if any, the Biden administration has taken to hold the Iranian regime officials behind the November 2019 crackdown accountable. These steps would include any actions by the Biden administration to promote human rights and democracy in Iran.

"Why have there been no Magnitsky sanctions against persons in the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran?" the lawmakers ask, referencing legislation that authorizes sanctions on governments and individuals who commit human rights violations. The Magnitsky Act has been used to sanction Russia, Syria, and other governments for similar crimes.

The GOP lawmakers also want the Biden administration to formally recognize the 2019 crackdown as a massacre—a move that would likely agitate Iran as it considers reentering into diplomatic talks with America.

Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Free Beacon that the Biden administration must not ignore the dire human rights situation in Iran as it negotiates with the regime over a revamped nuclear deal.

"As the Biden administration prepares once again for indirect nuclear diplomacy with the Islamic Republic, it cannot afford to forget about the victims of the Islamic Republic's most brutal crackdown on protesters since coming to power in 1979," Ben Taleblu said. "Washington needs to put its money where its mouth is on support for the Iranian people and the primacy of human rights concerns in its foreign policy."

"Deal or no deal," he said, "holding the regime accountable for its human rights abuses and mass killings of protesters is both the morally right and strategically sound thing to do for U.S.-Iran policy."