GOP senators ramp up pressure on Biden to scrap Iran talks

All but one GOP senator sent a letter to President Biden Monday raising concerns that a renewed nuclear deal with Iran could allow Tehran to strengthen its economic and military ties with Russia and China.

The letter comes as negotiations to reinstate the international deal with Iran have hit a roadblock over Russian demands that its trade with Iran not be affected by sanctions related to its invasion of Ukraine. 

Since former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018, Iran has reportedly accelerated its nuclear weapons program, increasing pressure on the West to reengage to prevent its nuclear capability. 

However, Republicans in Congress are trying to ramp up pressure on Biden to walk away from the talks, arguing that dropping sanctions on Iran would embolden its leaders and undermine America’s geopolitical interests. 

“The nuclear limitations in this new deal appear to be significantly less restrictive than the 2015 nuclear deal, which was itself too weak, and will sharply undermine U.S. leverage to secure an actually ‘longer and stronger’ deal,” Senate Republicans wrote in the letter. 

“What is more, the deal appears likely to deepen Iran’s financial and security relationship with Moscow and Beijing, including through arms sales.”

The letter was signed by 49 GOP senators, with only Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) abstaining. 

In an emailed statement, Paul said: “Condemning a deal that is not yet formulated is akin to condemning diplomacy itself, not a very thoughtful position." 

At a press conference Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a leading critic of the Iran deal, said the Biden administration's handling of the negotiations "reveal the utter incoherence and absurdity of their foreign policy."

"This Iran deal, if and when announced, is a massive win for Vladimir Putin," he added. 

In February, before Russia’s invasion, 33 Republican senators penned a letter to Biden expressing similar concerns and threatening to block the renewed deal. 

However, they are unlikely to have the votes to do that, and may not even have the chance. 

The Biden administration has yet to say whether it believes a renewed deal would require congressional approval or whether it could bypass Congress since lawmakers already approved the 2015 deal at the center of the talks. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said last month that he saw no path for the GOP to block the deal or cut off funding due to Democratic control of both the House and Senate. 

No congressional Republicans backed the 2015 agreement, but they failed to kill the deal. While four Democrats voted against it, it survived with a 58-42 vote since a resolution of disapproval requires 60 votes. 

After nearly a year of talks in Vienna, negotiators from the U.S., Europe, Russia, China and Iran said earlier this month they had “nearly completed” an agreement for the U.S. and Iran to return to compliance with the JCPOA.

However, the apparent progress in the talks have been upended by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow's demands for unhindered access to the Iranian market when sanctions are lifted against Tehran. 

U.S. officials have said they are not willing to make such a deal with Russia, as it would expand beyond the framework laid out in the JCPOA.

Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, has said the U.S. would not bow to Russian demands, and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was concerned the deal could be economically beneficial to Moscow.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that U.S. officials are giving Russia a week to drop its demands, while also considering what a new deal would look like without Russia. 

Iran has also been seeking assurances that a future U.S. president will not overturn a renewed deal. The GOP senators warned in their letter that any deal that is not bipartisan “will not survive.”

“Republicans have made it clear: We would be willing and eager to support an Iran policy that completely blocks Iran’s path to a nuclear weapons capability, constrains Iran’s ballistic missile program, and confronts Iran’s support for terrorism,” they wrote. 

“But if the administration agrees to a deal that fails to achieve these objectives or makes achieving them more difficult, Republicans will do everything in our power to reverse it.”

Iran is also putting pressure on the U.S. to come to a conclusion on the deal. On Monday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the U.S. needs to make a decision either way, as Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is set to visit Russia on Tuesday. 

By reviving the nuclear deal, Tehran would dispose of its nuclear material stockpiles and open itself up to intrusive monitoring by nuclear watchdogs in exchange for the U.S. lifting sanctions. The Biden administration argues that it is the best chance to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as they have advanced in recent years.

The United Arab Emirates and Israel also approached the Biden administration about the deal, asking for a clear security strategy that includes enhanced missile defenses and intelligence sharing. Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet warned that reviving the deal would cause a more violent Middle East.

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