Pompeo joins GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill to introduce Iran sanctions act

Greg Nash

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is putting his support behind Republican lawmakers aiming to block President Biden’s ability to lift sanctions on Iran.

Pompeo is returning to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to join members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) in unveiling legislation called the Max Pressure Act, with the goal to codify the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Iran. 

The top diplomat in the Trump administration is viewed as a potential 2024 presidential candidate and the sanctions campaign against Iran imposed during the Trump years is considered a key part of Pompeo’s legacy. 

The new legislation, introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana), comes as the Biden administration is participating in discussions in Vienna with signatories to the Obama-era nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that former President Trump withdrew from in 2018. 

Pompeo will appear with Banks at a press conference outside the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Banks is chair of the RSC, the largest Republican caucus in the House with 154 conservative GOP members. Pompeo was part of the RSC when he served as a Republican congressman from Kansas between 2011 and 2017. 

President Biden has said he is intent on rejoining the JCPOA, and the discussions with signatories and Iran are meant to lay out a pathway for both sides to return to compliance with the deal, for the U.S. to lift specific sanctions and Iran to reverse course on its violations of the terms of the deal.  

The majority of Democratic lawmakers support the president’s push to reenter the deal, but Republicans are stalwart in their opposition to lifting any sanctions on Iran.  

Pompeo, in his role as secretary of state, oversaw the imposition of some 1,500 sanctions on Iran. These included reimposing sanctions that were lifted as part of the JCPOA, in addition to more punitive actions targeting Iran’s industries that help fund its support for terrorism and punitive measures for its human rights abuses.

Pompeo is viewed as laying the groundwork for a possible 2024 presidential run, making key appearances in New Hampshire and Iowa while his House-campaign committee reportedly provided $155,000 to a newly-formed Political Action Committee, “Champion American Values.” 

The maximum pressure campaign against Iran is viewed as one of Pompeo’s most important policies, along with unprecedented support for Israel, who’s government has spoken out against the U.S. return to the JCPOA.

Pompeo spoke out against Biden’s push to reenter the nuclear deal last week in an event in New York City marking Israel’s independence day.  

“America, who is the noblest force for good and for human rights in the world, cannot permit the return to a situation where the risk to the Jewish homeland is real, and the capacity for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon is real,” he said in remarks.

The Max Pressure Act, the legislation being introduced Wednesday, says that sanctions on Iran can only be lifted if Tehran meets 12 demands that were outlined by Pompeo in May 2018, following the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. 

These include allowing full international access to observe and inspect Tehran’s nuclear activity, which Iran maintains is for peaceful purposes, and give up any activity that could be used to develop materials for a nuclear weapon. 

Other demands include Iran ending its proliferation of ballistic missiles, demands for the release of all American and international prisoners “detained on spurious charges,” calls for Iran ending its support for groups declared as terrorists and proxy-fighting forces in Iraq and Syria, and accountability for human rights abuses; among other requirements. 

The bill would further restrict the ability of the president to issue waiver and license authorities that allow for the bypassing of certain sanctions, used mostly for humanitarian purposes. The legislation would put sunset clauses on certain waivers and provide for expanded congressional review before sanctions are lifted on Iran.  

It also calls for submitting to the Senate for ratification as a treaty any new agreement with Iran. 

Supporters of the maximum pressure campaign of sanctions on Iran say that the policy works in squeezing Tehran financially and bankrupting its malign activity, and if left in place for long enough will extract concessions from the Islamic Republic. 

But critics say the sanctions have done little to curb Iran’s bad behavior and have emboldened it to break out of the constraints of the nuclear deal by threatening inspections from international nuclear watchdogs and increasing enrichment of uranium, key elements of fuel for a nuclear weapon. 

The Max Pressure Act is not the first move by Republicans aimed at constraining Biden’s ability to enter an agreement with Iran. 

Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Senator Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation this month to require congressional review of executive branch proposals to “terminate or waive sanctions” against Iran. 

In February, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) introduced a bicameral resolution that opposed lifting sanctions on Iran “without addressing the full scope of Iran’s malign activities,” including its nuclear program, ballistic missile program, weapons proliferation, support for terrorism, hostage-taking and human rights violations. 

Tags Donald Trump Jim Risch Joe Biden Mike Gallagher Mike Pompeo Tom Cotton

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