The Republican head of the House Homeland Security Committee is warning that the Obama administration's decision to lift sanctions as part of the Iran nuclear deal will bankroll terrorism at the expense of the United States and its allies.
Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) has long hammered the nuclear deal as a misguided agreement with untrustworthy adversaries –– a universal sentiment of congressional Republicans. McCaul amplified those concerns on Sunday following the administration's announcement that it has lifted financial penalties on Iran surrounding its nuclear program.
"I have said from the start that the Iran deal was little more than a negotiation with terrorists. And now with its implementation, we can see clearly one of the dangers it will bring to the free world," McCaul said in a statement. "The administration is unfreezing billions of dollars for the Iranian government, which will enhance its bankrolling of terrorism, perpetuate its repression, and fuel its efforts to oppose America and our allies in the region and beyond."
President Obama on Sunday defended the move to lift sanctions, saying Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal has been "verified," leading to the need for the United States to make good on its part of the bargain.
"Now that Iran’s actions have been verified, it can begin to receive relief from certain nuclear sanctions and gain access to its own money that had been frozen," Obama said from the White House.
In the same breath, however, Obama announced that he's installing new sanctions on Iran in response to a pair of ballistic missile tests conducted by Tehran late last year in defiance of United Nation's resolutions. The dual moves highlight the sharp distinction the administration is making between Iran's nuclear program and other actions undertaken by Tehran.
"We remain steadfast in opposing Iran’s destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners, and its support for violent proxies in places like Syria and Yemen," Obama said. "We still have sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism, and for its ballistic missile program. And we will continue to enforce these sanctions, vigorously."
The ballistic missile testing "was a violation of its international obligations," Obama added. "And as a result, the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran’s ballistic missile program. And we are going to remain vigilant about it."
Democrats, who have criticized the president for a failure to apply new sanctions in the wake of the missile tests, were quick to cheer the announcement.
"Iran's missile program poses a direct threat to our allies and continues to destabilize the region," Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. "Iranian leaders should be on notice that the nuclear deal won't excuse their continued dangerous behavior."
Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low MORE also weighed in on the developments Sunday. The Democratic presidential frontrunner also drew distinctions between the nuclear program and other Iranian initiatives, though she also characterized the parallel negotiations as "mutually reinforcing."
"They need to know that this is a good step forward with respect to the nuclear weapons program but there are other areas of their behavior that we're going to continue to be focused on," Clinton said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
"I'd rather have the nuclear weapons program off to one side and work to make sure they abide by the agreement and then turn our attention to some of these other behaviors that are threatening."
The developments came just one day after the Obama administration secured a prisoner swap with Tehran leading to the release of four Americans held by the Iranians for years. In return, the United States released six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian national who were held for violating sanctions.
The swap was widely condemned by Republicans Sunday, including the leading presidential hopefuls, who said the released Iranians would only strengthen Tehran's weapons programs and endanger the west.
But Obama defended the move, saying "it reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests."
"These individuals were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses," Obama said. "They’re civilians, and their release is a one-time gesture to Iran given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play."