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Blinken Refuses to Address Key Concerns on Iran Deal

As the Biden administration continues to negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Congressional lawmakers on both sides are seeking answers administration officials regarding various concessions and concerns around certain measures and the overall negotiating processes.

With Iran increasing its terrorist activities in the Middle East and its nuclear production, many lawmakers point out that the 2015 nuclear agreement will do nothing to curtail the Islamic Republic’s aggressions and provide a bevy of economic and military benefits for the regime. In recent days, lawmakers from both sides held congressional hearings in the House and Senate with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the current negotiations with Iran, whose answers have given Senators and Representatives from the House grave concerns.

In May 2018, the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 JCPOA created by the Obama administration with Iran, citing the numerous issues that provided enormous amounts of economic benefits to the Islamic Republic of Iran without any chance of mitigating the regime’s terrorist activities in the Middle East. At the time of the creation of the deal, Republicans and Democrats were concerned that the Obama administration was capitulating to the Iranian regime and strengthening Tehran’s position in the Middle East. When President Trump decided to disolve the Iranian nuclear agreement and enact a maximum pressure campaign against officials of the Iranian government, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Iranian economy, and Iran’s terrorist proxies, many saw that the regime was suffering tremendously than it had in a very long time.

Under the Biden administration, the President and his team have shown tremendous initiative in reviving the 2015 Iran deal regardless of what Republican and Democratic critics have to say. The administration has been criticized not only by members of Congress but by important U.S. allies in the Middle East ranging from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other countries for providing economic benefits to Tehran and providing a straight path towards obtaining a nuclear weapon. According to recent reports, the Biden administration has been heavily contemplating delisting the IRGC from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list to get Iran to agree the agreement while also offering concessions to the regime if they abandon their plan to assassinate former Trump administration officials.

During a recent public hearing by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken was asked by Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-1) and other lawmakers on the recent efforts to re-enter the nuclear agreement with Iran and the various issues with it. During the hearing, Congressman Zeldin asked Sec. Blinken whether he agreed that such a deal with Iran would have to be submitted to Congress as a treaty for official ratification. In response, Sec. Blinken stated that he would “follow the law” but refused to commit to abiding by the constitutionally granted treaty ratification role that Congress has.

House lawmakers also pressed Sec. Blinken on whether the U.S. would not join the Iranian nuclear agreement if the 2015 JCPOA sunset provisions were not updated. The sunset provision would eliminate restrictions on Iran’s nuclear production in a few short months and years allowing Tehran to indefinitely enrich uranium needed for nuclear weaponry. Secretary Blinken’s refusal to rule out joining an agreement that does not update the sunset provisions caused great concern from lawmakers distressed at the Administration’s rush to revive the nuclear agreement.

According to former State Department official for Iranian affairs, Gabriel Noronha, “Sec. Blinken knows that the deal he's negotiated is so unpopular it couldn't get a majority vote in Congress, let alone the two-thirds vote needed to pass the Senate as a treaty, so he's taking a page out of John Kerry's playbook by claiming the deal is a mere political agreement that doesn't deserve Congressional scrutiny. That's a sign of pure disrespect to the role of Congress in decision making.”

Noronha explains that the “significance of Iran negotiations is so high that Secretary Pompeo repeatedly pledged to bring any deal reached with Iran to the Senate as a treaty for an up or down vote. Blinken should do the same, but he recognizes he's negotiated such a weak deal that it wouldn't go far.”

During a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing by Republican and Democratic Senators, Sec. Blinken came under scrutiny by lawmakers for refusing to answer and stall on key issues regarding the JCPOA and negotiations with Iranian officials. When asked by Republican Senator Ted Cruz from Texas if the reports that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is currently trying to murder former senior Trump Officials because of the Qasem Soleimani attack are accurate, Blinken argued that he was unsure of what he could say in an open setting. When pressed further by Senator Cruz on reports that the State Department is paying millions of dollars to protect former Trump Administration officials, Sec. Blinken responded by stating that the administration is making sure that people are protected.

When Senator Cruz specifically asked if Iranian officials told the Secretary and his team that they would not cease their actions in trying to assassinate U.S. officials, Blinken refused to give a direct answer. Republican and Democrat senators asked the Secretary of State on the administration's overall general pursuit of re-entering the nuclear deal who defend the action by repeating the line former Secretary of State John Kerry stated previously, which is that the agreement is the best way to address the nuclear challenges posed by Tehran and make sure that it does not have a nuclear weapon.

When asked about Blinken’s interaction with Senator Cruz, Gabriel Noronha explained that the Secretary of State “wouldn't tell Cruz that the IRGC turned down his offer, not because it is particularly sensitive, but because he just didn't want to admit that he's still willing to finalize a deal while the Iranians are trying to assassinate his predecessor. His own officials, as well as European diplomats, have been leaking that outcome to reporters, and it is widely reported in the Iranian press.”

Noronha further explained that “Secretary Blinken is pretending that they are merely re-entering the JCPOA, when in fact it is an entirely new (and weaker deal). He uses that language to try to prepare the legal case to avoid submitting the deal to Congress. Even though there are reports that the deal is on the verge of collapse, it was shocking that Blinken was still trying to defend lifting sanctions on the IRGC - which should never be contemplated.”

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