50 bipartisan House members raise concerns about proposed nuclear agreement with Iran

Iran is showing little willingness to reestablish the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Michael Gruber/The Associated Press
A national flag of Iran waves in front of the building of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna, Austria.

A group of 50 House Democrats and Republicans is calling on President Biden to share with Congress text of a potential agreement with Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear deal before any papers are signed.

In a letter sent Thursday and led by Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.), lawmakers raise concerns that provisions reportedly included in the agreement could lead to weakening U.S. sanctions on Iran that are meant to target funding for terrorist activities. 

The letter comes as international officials are raising the possibility of an imminent agreement between the U.S. and Iran to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

French President Emanuel Macron said Thursday that he hopes the JCPOA will be “concluded in the next few days.”

And Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday, a strong signal that there’s forward movement on a potential deal. The U.S. has maintained close communication with Israel over the negotiations, with Jerusalem virulently opposing a return to the deal. 

While Republicans are near-universally against the JCPOA, Democrats are deeply divided over the effectiveness of the deal, which is intended to trade sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for Tehran agreeing to give up nuclear weapons ambitions and submit to intrusive monitoring of its activities.

But Democrats who criticize the deal say it does little to stop Iran from ever achieving a nuclear weapon and does not address other malign Iranian threats, such as its funding of terrorist activities and threats to Israel.

In the letter sent Thursday, the lawmakers, which include 34 Democrats and 16 Republicans, raise concerns over a number of reported provisions, including that non-U.S. citizens would not be exposed to sanctions for doing business with U.S.-sanctioned Iranian persons, including those associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. 

Biden has refused Iranian demands to remove the IRGC’s terrorist designation as a stipulation of the nuclear talks, but the members of Congress raise concern that the draft text risks weakening the U.S. blocks on the group. 

“The aforementioned reported provision creates a troubling precedent,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are concerned that it could significantly dilute the effectiveness of terrorism-related sanctions on the IRGC, Iran’s paramilitary terror arm and provides the organization with a pathway for sanctions evasion.”

Rob Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran talks, wrote in a statement to Politico, which first reported the provision, that the U.S. had not “engaged in any negotiation about changing due diligence … or other U.S. sanctions compliance standards for sanctions that would remain under a mutual return to full [nuclear deal] implementation. Any report to the contrary is flat out wrong.”

The Biden administration says the JCPOA is the best chance to reduce the risk of Iran building a nuclear weapon and has engaged in indirect negotiations with Iranian officials for 16 months to bring both parties back to the agreement that former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2018.

But the bipartisan letter sent Thursday also raised concern about Russia’s role in the talks given the U.S.-led international isolation campaign against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is one of the signatories to the JCPOA, a list that also includes China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union. 

The lawmakers say they oppose any plan that would make Russia responsible for the disposal of Iran’s enriched uranium, a key factor in depleting Tehran’s stockpile of a critical component of nuclear weapons. 

“We should not let war criminal [Russian President] Vladimir Putin be the guarantor of the deal or the keeper of massive amounts of Iran’s enriched uranium. Iran supports the illegal war in Ukraine and has been supplying Russia with drones used to kill Ukrainians,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“Therefore, we urge you not to return to any deal with Iran prior to releasing the full text of the agreement and any side agreements to Congress, to provide us with an in-depth briefing on the matter, and to consult with all key stakeholders. We must address the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, stand strong against terrorists, and protect American values and our allies.”

Tags Biden Iran Iran nuclear agreement JCPOA Josh Gottheimer nuclear deal Vladimir Putin Yair Lapid

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