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Tipsheet

Former Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor: Why Aren't Congressional Republicans Fighting Biden's Dangerous Iran Deal?

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

They're certainly criticizing the yet-unrevealed "deal," albeit pretty late in the game – though that may not be entirely their fault. The whole process has been shrouded in secrecy, by design. The Iranians, Russians and Chinese know what's in it, and they all seem thrilled. The remaining Biden negotiators also know what's in it, but they're reportedly doing everything they can to keep the details hidden from other American policymakers. But the first major red flag here – setting aside the deeply concerning reality that the Biden administration has been hellbent on re-establishing a nuclear accord with Iran in the first place – was the January departure of three US negotiators due to firsthand objections over the shocking scope of the emerging capitulation. That was a catalyzing event that should have sounded loud alarm bells. Now that the negotiations are apparently nearly or entirely completed, with a high risk that billions in sanctions relief could start flowing into Iranian coffers before Congress can do much of anything, former federal anti-terrorism prosecutor Andy McCarthy wonders why the GOP hasn't been going to the mats to fight it: 

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One would think that President Biden’s soon-to-be-announced Russia–Iran nuclear deal would be meeting with more Republican outrage. In early February, weeks before Iran’s Russian patron launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, 33 Republican senators sent the White House a letter about the nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna. The senators warned that there would be hell to pay if Biden tried to cut a deal with the mullahs without providing full disclosure to, and seeking approval from, Congress. Since then, as I related in a column on Saturday, astonishing details have emerged about the extent to which the Biden administration has relied on the good graces of Vladimir Putin’s monstrous regime to intercede with the Iranians, who won’t meet directly with American envoys no matter how much they grovel.

With Russian forces now brutalizing Ukrainian civilians, committing patent war crimes that the president thus far declines to acknowledge as such, one might expect to find congressional Republicans raising hell regarding the imminent agreement. Biden contemplates pumping hundreds of billions in sanctions-relief dollars into the coffers of the Russia-backed global leader in sponsoring terrorism. The deal would reportedly lift sanctions on Iranian officials complicit in the killing of hundreds of Americans in such infamous atrocities as Hezbollah’s 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and its 1996 bombing of a compound housing U.S. Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia...Hopefully, Republicans will get properly angry about Biden’s deal before it’s too late. But you may have your answer if you’re wondering why there’s not a full-scale mutiny on Capitol Hill over Biden’s unabashed collusion with our Russian adversary — even as it is ravaging Ukraine — in order to complete a deal that empowers and enriches our Iranian adversary...
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Read McCarthy's weekend column outlining the extremely troubling rumored and leaked elements of the agreement that's evidently been hammered out by the Russians on our behalf. They're atrocious: 

Biden contemplates pumping hundreds of billions in sanctions-relief dollars into the coffers of the Russia-backed global leader in sponsoring terrorism. The deal would reportedly lift sanctions on Iranian officials complicit in the killing of hundreds of Americans in such infamous atrocities as Hezbollah’s 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and its 1996 bombing of a compound housing U.S. Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia...Biden’s agreement would outrageously provide Iran with relief from sanctions meant to punish the mullahs for activities — such as terrorism, regional aggression, and ballistic-missile development — that were intentionally cordoned off from the JCPOA. It would be ridiculous to contend that this is just the old wine in a new cask; it’s a brand-new deal. But it shares with the JCPOA the embarrassing facts that (1) it will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; (2) it will not require Iran to foreswear its terrorism promotion in order to get relief, but it will require the United States to assist Iran in the development of a large-scale nuclear-power program (for civilian purposes only of course); and (3) it will facilitate extensive Russian commerce with Iran and designate Moscow as the repository of Tehran’s enriched uranium.
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This is, somehow, materially and significantly worse than Obama's terrible deal, which a bipartisan supermajority (60 percent) of Congress opposed at the time. The Biden administration is trying to pretend that Congress has already reviewed the accord because it's just a resumption of the Obama-era "JCPOA." But for reasons explained above, it's new, distinct, and more destructive. It's insulting to suggest that a discrete negotiation, undertaken by our (bragging) adversaries, amounts to nothing – and is therefore not subject to fresh congressional review. But that's the White House line. McCarthy notes, as we have, that House GOP leaders sent a letter to the president insisting that the product of these talks be submitted to the legislative branch for a vote. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also addressed the matter in floor remarks just yesterday: 

"I would note that Senator Menendez also stressed the importance of building bipartisan support for any new deal which the President’s team wants to cook up with the Iranians. This is the same message I conveyed to the President and his top advisors at the beginning of the Administration. If he wants his policy or his deal to endure beyond his Presidency, he must bring Republicans on board. Regrettably, President Biden appears to have ignored this good advice. Reports indicate a sequel to the bad 2015 Iran nuclear deal may be imminent, yet the Administration has laid zero bipartisan groundwork. Indeed, there are indications the President’s posture is not even supported within his own team. According to public reports, multiple key diplomats recently walked off the Administration’s negotiating team because of concerns the chief negotiator was going much too soft...Rumors of this impending ‘deal’ — because rumors are all that Congress has — suggest it would be an enormous step in the wrong direction. It appears not to be a ‘longer and stronger’ deal than the JCPOA, as was promised, but a weaker and shorter deal. This is wildly reckless. This is an Administration chasing a deal, any deal, instead of pursuing our interests...

There is some suspicion the Administration is desperate for any excuse to ease sanctions on Iranian oil exports to help blunt the impact of the European crisis on Americans’ pocketbooks. This White House seems determined to go hat in hand and beg every bad actor around the world to ramp up their own fossil fuel production, but still will not stop their holy war against our own American energy production here at home. If press reports of the deal are accurate, the President and Democrats on Capitol Hill surely understand that it will not be accepted widely or quietly. If the President seeks to remove sanctions on Iran, there will be votes. Democrats who now regret their recent vote to protect the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should think twice before voting to help President Biden ease sanctions on Iranian entities that engage in terrorism, missile proliferation, or human rights abuses. Given Chairman Menendez’s concerns, I hope and would expect the Foreign Relations Committee will hold major hearings. But I know this much for certain: The next time Republicans control the Senate, vigorous oversight will take place over the diplomatic mess that is unfolding in the Middle East."
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I don't object to any of that, but I keep wondering, "or else what"? Biden could sign onto a truly dreadful deal, start shoveling the sanctions relief cash out the door, and...then what? Vigorous "oversight" sometime in the future would accomplish what, exactly? And would there even be votes, necessarily? The minority in the Senate can force the majority's hand in certain ways, but would Democratic leadership pull as many strings as possible to avoid embarrassing the administration – especially in an election year in which the president's unpopularity already threatens to sink their party? Some powerful Democratic senators are at least sounding like they object to what's happening, but will that translate into any meaningful action? McCarthy points out that last time around, Congress created a strange workaround that turned the Constitution's super-majority treaty provision on its head; this allowed the Obama agreement to remain in place so long as two-thirds of Congress didn't vote to end it.

Of course, because it wasn't a ratified treaty, the US could withdraw under a new president, which is exactly what happened. But at this stage, time is of the essence. Billions of dollars allegedly stand to end up in the pockets of some of the worst actors on the planet, all as the Iranian regime moves closer to becoming a nuclear-armed state. This new accord reportedly doesn't prevent, or even slow, that eventuality. Tick tock. Republicans need to get much louder, now. They need to press Democrats to speak up, too. And intense pressure must be brought to bear to ensure congressional oversight of any deal before a single dime of taxpayer money goes anywhere. The fact that Russia took the lead in these negotiations is insult to injury, particularly in light of current world events. We cannot afford to be entirely distracted by the Ukraine crisis – which is a very serious matter worthy of major attention and scrutiny, of course. But it's not the only thing. This is playing out right now, just out of the public eye, with huge implications for the US and world security. Focus. This matters.

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