In a party-line vote on Thursday, Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) marked up and then voted down a Republican-led resolution that would require the Biden administration to release the pending text of the draft Iran Nuclear Deal for congressional review. The resolution, whose lead sponsor is Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), compels greater transparency of the Biden administration’s negotiations involving the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and strengthens a statute already in place as part of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.
The provision stipulates that the president “keep the appropriate congressional committees and leadership fully and currently informed of any initiative or negotiations with Iran relating to Iran’s nuclear program, including any new or amended agreement.” Under US law, a 30-day congressional review period is required before implementing any deal regarding lifting sanctions. Given that nuclear talks are currently paused, the HFAC’s decision to vote against congressional oversight ensures that details surrounding an agreement will not reach the House floor before the November elections.
The vote on the GOP measure arrived the same week as US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, briefed a bipartisan group from the HFAC on the status of the nuclear talks. While continuing to escalate its nuclear weapons program, Iran has stated that it would not agree to a deal that includes the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) probe into its contested nuclear sites.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in the quarter leading up to August 21, “Iran’s cache of highly enriched uranium of 60% purity increased by about 30%,” with the UN now claiming that Iran has enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.
Iran Deal negotiations
While the US State Department has suggested that Iran’s response to the final draft of the agreement “is not constructive,” spokesman Ned Price reaffirmed a commitment to reviving the agreement in a September 13 press briefing declaring that, “it is not too late to conclude a deal.”
Malley’s appearance before lawmakers indicates that the US may withdraw its demand for Iran to agree to the IAEA investigation and that it may be inching toward inking a deal. The administration’s open-ended timeline for restoring the JCPOA, coupled with its willingness to loosen constraints limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, should be enough to spur bipartisan congressional action.
Should Congress review the Iran Deal?
CONFIRMING HER disappointment with the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s failure to endorse the resolution, Foxx warned that “if this deal is inked without Congress exercising its explicit oversight authorities in reviewing it, the administration would be sending an irresponsible message to the entire international community – especially to our longstanding ally, Israel. Good governance and effective oversight must not become relics of a bygone era.”
Citing concerns last month over the $100b. Iran will receive under the current agreement, Prime Minister Yair Lapid directed his frustration at US President Joe Biden, effectively blaming his administration for not “fulfilling his commitment to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon if it joins the Iran deal as it stands.” Moreover, Iran will be able to keep the uranium that it has secretly procured, with restrictions on research and development on advanced centrifuges expiring in two years.
While policymakers, like Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, are sounding the alarm over the impending deal, most Democrats will likely refuse to buck Biden regarding the administration’s overtures toward Iran. In recent weeks, over two dozen House Democrats signed a bipartisan letter to Biden noting their concern over reported inclusions in the deal. Yet, at least one Democratic staffer who spoke to the Jewish Insider believes that some Democrats who signed the letter would ultimately back the new Iran agreement if and when it comes before Congress.
Democratic congressmen Jim Costa of California and Henry Cuellar of Texas are among those who signed onto the correspondence, yet voted in favor of the 2015 agreement. Reflecting the sentiment expressed to the Jewish Insider is Thursday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee decision, which witnessed Democrats who in the past have intimated “concern” about negotiating with Iran, choosing instead to reject congressional action. Merely calling for the Biden administration to strike a stronger deal with the Islamic state is moot if not bolstered by exerting some legislative muscle.
It bears mentioning that the US is not directly negotiating with Iran and relies on European intermediaries to relay details. Even worse, Russia and China are assisting the EU as nuclear brokers, with Russia set to receive a “reported $10b. contract to help build atomic reactors in Iran.”
Condemning Russian aggression in Ukraine while granting it the latitude to arrange a nuclear deal legitimizes Russia’s geopolitical standing and reveals a misguided US foreign policy. Unlike the Senate, the minority party in the House of Representatives retains little power.
Democrats must address problems of Iran Deal
FOR NOW, House Democrats can successfully stonewall legislative steps by refusing to introduce measures like Thursday’s resolution onto the House floor. In the interim, Biden will afford Iran time to continue its malignant activities while recognizing the sensibility behind deemphasizing movements toward sealing a deal prior to the midterm elections.
For its part, the Islamic state is increasing its global terrorist stronghold. In recent months, Iran has sentenced two LGBTQ+ activists to death and plotted to assassinate US government officials. It has unleashed its terrorist proxies in the region and attacked targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Last month, three US soldiers were injured following an Iranian-backed rocket attack in Syria.
Weeks after the Iran-sponsored Palestinian Islamic Jihad unleashed a barrage of rockets on Israeli cities, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi promised to destroy Israel should the Jewish state strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Mustering perfunctory statements of unease over Iranian intransigence, and voting to restrict Congress’s role concerning a deal that has profound strategic implications, underscores today’s climate of political polarization. House Democrats must set aside protecting their party leader and start to honestly confront the challenges outlined in the Iran nuclear agreement.
The writer resides in New York. Her work has also appeared in The American Spectator, The Algemeiner, the Jewish News Syndicate and Israel Hayom.