Republicans continue to campaign against President Joe Biden’s diplomacy to lift Iran sanctions, which involves also exempting Russia from Ukraine sanctions.
The Republican push against nuclear talks in Vienna since April 2021 is not new, but a decision by the Biden Administration earlier this week to accept last-minute Russian demands has added a new twist to the dynamics of the opposition.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is sponsoring a bill to prohibit the administration from waving sanctions imposed for the invasion of Ukraine, allowing Russia to continue nuclear projects with Iran worth at least $10 billion.
"The Biden administration is dismantling sanctions and is aching to secure a new agreement with the Iranian regime that is even weaker than the original catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal," Cruz told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Biden administration is so committed to their deal that they are willing to make Iran a nuclear client for Putin, including work that amounts to a $10 billion subsidy for his war machine."
Free Beacon also reported that Rep. Darrell ISS (R- Calif.) is authoring a parallel House version of the bill.
The Biden administration has repeatedly defended its policy of negotiating a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA, although it had promised a stronger deal last year, when talks began in Vienna. Officials insist that their top priority is to make sure Iran never becomes a nuclear weapons state, but critics argue that what is being negotiated will not guarantee that.
As the Vienna talks with Iran seemed to be coming to an end, Russia demanded written guarantees from the United States that Western sanctions imposed for Ukraine should not impede its trade and other relations with Iran. After more than a week of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on March 15 that Moscow has received guarantees from Washington it can continue its nuclear cooperation deals with Iran.
Although this fell short of Russia’s demand for full waivers, but some argued that it would still mean a $10 billion windfall for Moscow while West is trying to turn screws on the Kremlin amid high tensions in Europe.
Sen. Cruz regards the administration’s move on offering the waiver as a circumvention of Congressionally approved sanctions and his bill intends to block the concession. The Senate is almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, and any bill to succeed must have bipartisan support. Some Democrats might join the bill, but it needs a Democratic cosponsor to gain more traction.
So far, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has voiced strong reservations about the Vienna talks, but it he has still not endorsed the Cruz bill.
Not only the waiver of Ukraine sanctions on Russia will generate cash for Moscow, but its commercial dealings on nuclear projects might also provide a window to international banking and money laundering through Iran, which has vast experience in evading US sanctions.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Republican Ranking Member Jim Risch tweeted on Thursday, “Russian enterprises involved in the invasion of Ukraine stand to gain significantly from a bad deal with Iran. It’ll unlock billions for the Kremlin, helping fuel Russian war crimes.”
In the House of Representatives Congressman Jim Banks announced on Thursday that he has introduced “a resolution condemning the Biden admin’s attempt to re-enter the failed, Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.” Fox News reported that 50 Republicans support the resolution.
Iran’s foreign minister said Thursday that a draft agreement in Vienna is almost ready, awaiting a US response on just two issues. One issue reportedly is delisting the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization designation, a move Israel and others strongly object to.
This week, 49 Republican Senators issued a statement telling the White House not sign a deal to revive the 2015 JCPOA, especially if IRGC sanctions are to be lifted.