President Joe Biden sent his
negotiators to Vienna this week with a singular mission: Offer Iran billions of dollars as part of a first step toward rejoining a dangerous nuclear deal that Tehran cheated on from the very beginning. The only question now is what Congress plans to do to defend the sanctions architecture it has built over many years.
For weeks, Republicans and centrist Democrats in Washington held out hope that Biden would utilize the historic sanctions leverage he inherited from his predecessor to negotiate a better, more comprehensive deal with Iran. Biden had
said that his goal was to “tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program.” Secretary of State Tony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it would not be in the U.S. interest to lift terrorism sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran or the National Iranian Oil Company — institutions that were originally provided sanctions relief under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the 2015 nuclear deal is formally known.
Under the Biden administration’s
reported offer, however, the U.S. would lift terrorism sanctions on Iran up front without requiring any halt to the regime’s state sponsorship of terrorism. Iran would gain access to billions of dollars through its central bank and national oil company — both of which are subject to sanctions because of their ties to terrorism and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which itself is correctly designated as a terrorist entity. When asked this week if terrorism sanctions were, in fact, on the table in Vienna, State Department spokesperson Ned Price all but admitted it.
Under the arrangement being discussed, the Islamic Republic would gain tacit approval to sponsor terrorism, hold Americans hostage, enrich uranium on its own soil, test nuclear-capable missiles and engage in human-rights abuses against the Iranian people. More shockingly, a so-called nuclear deal to limit Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons would not require Tehran to account for its secret nuclear-weapons
archive or clandestine nuclear sites, materials and activities currently under investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Recall that Iran lied to the IAEA in 2015 to gain access to sanctions relief. Its continued deception should be at the heart of any negotiation over its nuclear program.
Effectively, Biden is offering to subsidize the IRGC and reward Iranian nuclear deceit if the mullahs merely stop enriching uranium at higher levels and stop testing advanced centrifuges — neither of which are truly concessions since the JCPOA allows Iran to do both
over time. Moreover, the offer of terrorism-sanctions relief constitutes a material breach of trust by the secretary of state, who led senators to believe that would never happen if they voted to confirm him.
On a bipartisan basis, Congress should demand a vote on any agreement reached in Vienna before sanctions are lifted; indeed, the
law requires nothing less. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement and Review Act of 2015, the president must submit to Congress the text of any agreement reached with Iran over its nuclear program and allow Congress time to review and potentially vote to reject it.
Senators of both parties should also consider responding to Secretary Blinken’s broken commitment on terrorism sanctions by pushing legislation to prohibit any sanctions relief — waivers, licenses, or delistings — that directly or indirectly benefits entities subject to U.S. sanctions as of January 20, 2021, because of their connections to terrorism and the IRGC. Any terrorism sanctions suspended before the law takes effect should be reinstated as well. Such legislation could get tacked on as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill, setting up a tough political vote for Democrats who
voted for Iran terrorism sanctions four years ago — while the Trump administration was still in the Iran deal.